Robotics Club: A Place to Work with the Hands and Tinker with the Mind

A Humanoid Robot by Allie Banks

Allie Banks ’16

The spring term brought many  things to the Circle: AP week, The Miracle Worker, rainier weather, and the Robotics Club. Founded by Tess Despres ‘14 and Manjari Ganti ‘14, Robotics Club meets every Sunday and welcomes  all.

Having always been interested in building and tinkering, Tess was inspired to create the club while she was looking at colleges which specialized in engineering. She learned about many scholarships available for aspiring engineers with backgrounds in robotics. She also met numerous students who had had previous experiences with robotics, which they said “gave them a jump start on understanding both programming and engineering in a super fun atmosphere.” Inspired to create such an opportunity here on the Circle, Tess decided to start the Robotics Club to share educational and rewarding experiences with other Groton students.

Presently, the Robotics Club is using LEGO Mindstorms kits to build and program their machines, as they are easy to work with and can perform various functions. The Mindstorms kits contain  software and hardware that can be used to create customizable and programmable robots in the form of vehicles, animals, and humanoids. Students use LEGO parts to build models, modular sensors, and motors, and the entire system is controlled by an intelligent brick computer. The programming interface is easy to pick up, but also allows builders to create very complicated, advanced sequences. Students also have access to an Arduino, a hardware board microcontroller, with which they can make the application of interactive objects more accessible and learn a bit of electrical engineering. “Though all of this sounds complicated,” Tess says, “we have a lot of fun assembling robots and making things work.” For one of the first meetings, the heads brought in Make Games With Us to teach some simple programming using their preset code to make their very own iPhone programs, like Flappy Bird.

So far, members of the Robotics Club have created a variety of mechanical gadgets, such as humanoid robots and rovers that follow lines, draw pictures, and react to objects in their paths. Tess built a Segway that balances itself by using a light sensor to calibrate the correct angle of the body to keep its center of mass over the two wheels. Abby Power ’17 and Zhamoyani McMillan ’16 created an electric guitar that uses a sliding panel to measure the distance along the neck of the guitar and play the correct notes. At their most recent meeting, members tackled the programming problem of drawing a clean square with a robot holding a Sharpie. “The task proved to be tricky, since perfect right angles are difficult to draw with rovers,” says Abby. Abby expressed her enthusiasm for robotics despite having no prior experience, an excellent mindset that embodies Tess’ goals for the club: to spark the interest of young, interested scientists.

All in all, Tess thinks that Robotics Club has been successful this past term and is excited about the future of the club. She encourages all those who are interested to stop by and see what they can do, as “there are infinite possibilities in the Robotics Club”. Students can even explore and learn individually by simply downloading the Mindstorms program onto their computer or going on the Make Games With Us website. The heads hope that the interest in robotics at Groton will continue to grow and that students will be able to enter robotics competitions in the future.

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