Freya’s Screen Debut, and a New Home

We’ve been taking an actual Spring Break, believe it or not. Members slept in, went places, and did things completely unrelated to robots. No, really!

Oh, ok, so we did start working on a new project. Over a weekend we got together to storyboard and film Freya for her screen debut: Freya and Ducks à l’Orange! No duckies were harmed in the making of this film. We promise.

We brought Freya to meet her adoring public at the Bennington Area Makerspace on May 7th, joining the Cookie Clickers at their Open House. She worked beautifully!

We also started May in our new home in the Smith Center at Burr and Burton Academy. We are incredibly excited to be invited to share the Robotics Lab with Mr. Morrison’s students! We had visitors there last Monday, and all had a great time driving around the lab and delivering balls, cubes, and ducks to each other.

Delivering Freight in the Smith Center!

It’s been a great year in our workshop provided by TPW Real Estate, and we will miss our awesome garage space. It allowed us to meet safely this year even during the Delta and Omicron waves, so that we could bring Freya to the VT State Championship.

Having community support is how we keep the program going, bringing STEAM enrichment to area students. While the majority of our current members are attending BBA, we welcome 7th-12th graders from any school (or homeschool) in the area. There are no membership dues or costs beyond transportation; expenses come entirely from grants and donations. Thus we are truly grateful for the support of TPW and BBA in providing the team a home.

2021-2022 Post-Competition Update

Early morning arrival at the Vermont State FTC Championship, March 19, 2022.  Left to right: Zach, Jacob, Isaac, Charlotte, Takoda.  Photo credit: Coach Meg.
Early morning arrival at the Vermont State FTC Championship, March 19, 2022. Left to right: Zach, Jacob, Isaac, Charlotte, Takoda. Photo credit: Coach Meg.

On Saturday, March 19, 2022, we took our robot, Freya, to the Vermont State FIRST Tech Challenge Championship competition hosted by the CVU RoboHawks in Hinesburg, VT. The competition involves several rounds of Qualification Matches, followed by the Semi-Final Matches, followed by the Final Match based on the rankings earned during the previous matches.

The team started out the day with an interview with two judges. We presented the season’s work, represented in our Engineering Portfolio and our larger Engineering Notebook. These had been polished up over the course of the previous week.

Freya was called up for the first match of the day, bright and early, partnered with the Ringers on the Blue Alliance. After a serious fumble in the Autonomous period, she was able to recover well enough to deliver ducks in the Endgame and score points for the Alliance. However, her delivery system was broken beyond on-site repair, and the remainder of the matches were played without it.

Our next Alliance was with the Cookie Clickers, our friends from the Bennington Area Makers. Both robots gave a creditable performance. We went on to play in a total of 6 matches, with each match improving as the drivers became adept at running Freya without her delivery slides and chute. They were able to use her intake to push freight all the way through, delivering to the bottom level of each hub.

The team was interviewed in the pit by the judges, who stopped by with each team to discuss their robots and their approach to the problems posed by the game challenges.

While Freya did not advance past the qualifying matches, she impressed the judges with her design and her modularity. She was able to compete without all her assemblies, and she was able to swap out her alliance markers between red and blue with a little Velcro™. The judges were also impressed by the team’s resilience and their engineering process through the season.

Congratulations to our Team on a Season and Game that was well thought, well designed, and well-played!

Judged Awards

The team came home with three awards – Second Place for the Think Award, Second Place for the Control Award, and First Place for the Design Award.

The Think Award: Removing engineering obstacles through creative thinking.

This judged award is given to the Team that best reflects the journey the team took as they experienced the engineering design process during the build season. The engineering content within the portfolio is the key reference for judges to help identify the most deserving Team. The Team’s engineering content must focus on the design and build stage of the Team’s Robot.

The Team must be able to share or provide additional detailed information that is helpful for the judges. This would include descriptions of the underlying science and mathematics of the Robot design and game strategies, the designs, redesigns, successes, and opportunities for improvement. A Team is not a candidate for this award if their portfolio does not include engineering content.

The Manchester Machine Makers earned Second Place at the Vermont Championships for the Think Award. The team created an Engineering Notebook with detailed and elaborate descriptions of all the systems of the robot, including the design and engineering process of both hardware and software, and the support systems provided by fundraising and community partnerships. This is the third year running in which the Team has been recognized in the Think Award category.

Control Award sponsored by Arm, Inc.: Mastering robot intelligence.

The Control Award celebrates a Team that uses sensors and software to increase the Robot’s functionality in the field. This award is given to the Team that demonstrates innovative thinking to solve game challenges such as autonomous operation, improving mechanical systems with intelligent control, or using sensors to achieve better results. The control component should work consistently in the field. The Team’s engineering portfolio must contain a summary of the software, sensors, and mechanical control, but would not include copies of the code itself.

The Manchester Machine Makers earned Second Place at the Vermont Championships for the Control Award. The team was able to show its consideration for improving the driver controls, and effective use of sensors and algorithms in its software.

Design Award: Industrial design at its best.

This judged award recognizes design elements of the Robot that are both functional and aesthetic. The Design Award is presented to Teams that incorporate industrial design elements into their solution. These design elements could simplify the Robot’s appearance by giving it a clean look, be decorative in nature, or otherwise express the creativity of the Team. The Robot should be durable, efficiently designed, and effectively address the game challenge.

The Manchester Machine Makers earned First Place at the Vermont Championships for the Design Award! The team put a lot of thought into the design of Freya, considering all aspects of how she would need to be both used and maintained. The judges appreciated the swappable Alliance markers as well as how well the robot performed on the field after having removed one component. The modularity of the design and flexibility of the robot’s performance were a key factor in the team’s success.

Dean’s List

Our very own Isaac Vernon was recognized as a Finalist for the Dean’s List Award as well.

Congratulations!

Isaac Vernon Honored as a Dean’s List Award Finalist

Isaac Vernon, a sophomore at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester Vermont and a member of the Manchester Machine Makers 4-H Club and FIRST Tech Challenge Team #16221, was recognized at the Vermont State Championships held on Saturday March 19 at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg Vermont as one of two FIRST Tech Challenge Dean’s List Finalists representing Vermont.

Isaac Vernon, a sophomore at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester Vermont and a member of the Manchester Machine Makers 4-H Club and FIRST Tech Challenge Team #16221, was recognized at the Vermont State Championships held on Saturday March 19 at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg Vermont as one of two FIRST Tech Challenge Dean’s List Finalists representing Vermont.

States the FIRST website: In an effort to recognize the leadership and dedication of FIRST’s most outstanding secondary school students, the Kamen family sponsors an award for selected 10th and 11th grade students known as the FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge Dean’s List.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”. Similar to National Merit Scholarship Award Winners, there are three categories of FIRST Dean’s List Award students: FIRST Dean’s List Semi-finalists, Finalists, and Winners. The Semi-finalists are compromised of the two students in their 10th or 11th grade school year nominated by each team. FIRST Dean’s List Finalists are comprised of the the students selected at each state/regional championship (Vermont has two Finalists).

FIRST Dean’s List Winners are comprised of the 10 FIRST Robotics Competition and 10 FIRST Tech Challenge students selected from the applicable FIRST Dean’s List Finalists at the FIRST Championship being held April 20-23, in Houston Texas.

All of those Team members who are Semi-finalists, Finalists, and Winners are examples of student leaders who have not only achieved personal technical accomplishment, but also have led their Teams and communities to increased awareness of STEM and of the FIRST organization. It is important to recognize the contributions they have made and will make as they pursue further education, going on to become great leaders, student alumni, and advocates of FIRST.

This is the second year that the Team has been home to a Dean’s List Finalist for Vermont. We are proud of our Team members and grateful for their inspiration and dedication!

Isaac is a founding member of the Manchester Machine Makers and this is his third year on the team.

2021 End of Year Wrap Up Newsletter

2021 End of Year Wrap Up Newsletter

Happy New Year from the Manchester Machine Makers! Below is what the team has been working on:

Grants

  • The Manchester Machine Makers also received a matching grant up to $500. Consider making a tax deductible donation to the Manchester Machine Makers 4-H Club. All gifts will be matched up until January 31, 2022! Donate here or scan the QR code. 

Hardware

  • We have completed our drivebase! With the drivebase fully constructed and operational the team has met its deadline of November 23, 2021.
Above: Our robot’s first test drive on the field. \Right: The drivebase!
Above: Our robot’s first test drive on the field.
Right: The drivebase!

The intake and the delivery system

  • The intake system is critical to picking up pieces of freight. Currently we are in the process of building our intake system. We started the process by drawing a few rough sketches. We then started trying to put the intake together using the rough idea and eye-balling the process. Learning how to disconnect the metal chains only to realize we couldn’t reattach the chain. The plastic chain seems to be working very well and it is much easier to adjust the size. As a team, after getting a SolidWorks representation of the intake, we decided to change the sprockets to all one size. We learned the hard way that the sonic hubs should be fit onto the axle before putting them into the gecko wheel.
Isaac and Takoda present
the finished slide mechanism.
  • The delivery system is how the freight is moved from the robot to the delivery hub. All of the inserts have been successfully 3d printed (thank you Amy Wright at BBA) and issues with length of the inserts revealed that super gluing them together was unnecessary- the screws are sufficient. In addition, there was no system to drive the final stage of extension, so a bearing was added to the back of each of the lower slides. The slide assemblies were built and mounted to the custom angle brackets, and standoffs were mounted to that bracket. There was some horizontal expansion in the slides, so some small spacers may be needed along with the standoffs. Once the final bearing is attached to the back of the slides, they will be able to have four stages of extension, meaning the greatest remaining challenge is wiring the pulley system.

Outreach

  • This fall, the team has taken part in the beta test of the FTC Machine Learning Tool. Part of this year’s challenge involves training a TensorFlow model to allow the robot to recognize a custom-designed object on the field. The FTC leadership has designed this tool to make machine learning more accessible to teams and make it simpler to construct the large datasets needed to properly train a model. Our team gained access to the tool early in order to provide feedback, improving the experience of other teams as it is opened to the whole FTC community.
  • In January the Manchester Machine Makers will be mentoring the Lego Team, the Fiery Froggies! Isaac Vernon and Charlotte Ruley will meet with the team to support them as they get ready for their competition.
  • The Manchester Machine Makers held a virtual open house on December 22. See the recorded session below to hear about our progress from the team!

Happy New Year!

2021 VASE HOST Grant

This fall we applied for the Vermont Academy of Science and Engineering (VASE) Hands-On Science and Technology (HOST) Grants program. The VASE HOST grants are given yearly and are primarily intended for science, technology, and robotic clubs/teams in Vermont. Typically about 10 grants are awarded ranging from $500-1,000.

This year the Manchester Machine Makers has been awarded a grant of $1,000 to create two Programming Boards. In the past we borrowed school programming boards so it will be helpful to finally have our own. For those who don’t know what a Programming Board is, it’s basically the necessary hardware needed for a programmer to test and develop code (see photo below). Interested? Check out our programming board page to see how to make your own!

November 2021 Newsletter

Jacob, Takoda, Piper, Amos, Isaac, and Charlotte 
during a photoshoot at the Manchester Machine Makers’ new headquarters.
Jacob, Takoda, Piper, Amos, Isaac, and Charlotte 
during a photoshoot at the Manchester Machine Makers’ new headquarters. 

We have gotten to work on our robot! Here is what the team has been doing this fall:

  • We have been cleaning out and organizing our new space donated by TPW Real Estate that we are sharing with two local First Lego League teams: the Fiery Froggies and the Explore team. 
  • Also, along with the new space, we have welcomed some new members this fall: Amos, Jake, Zach, and Takoda. See their full profiles on the Team page. 
  • After finalizing our strategy and plans for our robot, we have documented our goals and deadlines for the season. Currently, our drive base is scheduled to be fully built by November 23, 2021.
  • On October 24th, Randy Marsh, our engineering mentor, who has helped the Manchester Machine Makers before, attended one of our virtual meetings, giving a demonstration on different aspects and features of the 3D modeling software, Solidworks, which the team uses often to model its builds and custom parts. Helping the team further, he provided the team with valuable feedback and advice on our custom field element. 
  • On October 29 we met with our founding mentor Mike Cole to brainstorm ideas about our delivery system
  • We fully constructed our half playing field for the competition. Additionally, we catalogued the parts we already had and ordered more for the robot. 
  • We received a donation and an internship opportunity for team members from EPS, Engineered Printing Solutions in East Dorset VT (see blog post, EPS Supports Manchester Machine Makers). 
  • We also have been working on the design of our robot’s intake mechanism, since it will be vital in Freight Frenzy. We can’t score points without being able to accurately and efficiently pick up freight!
  • As of mid-November, we have finalized our custom field element, and it will be 3D printed as soon as possible (most likely in December). We have also fully finished creating a 3D model of our drive base.

However, this is just what we have done so far!

Java Reflection Tutorial, Part 1

This is a repost from our previous blog platform.

Jun 2, 2021 • Aleks Rutins

Java Reflection Tutorial, Part 1

First of all, this is the first time I’ve ever written a blog post. My apologies if the organization makes no sense.

Reflection in programming is the act of using code to write or read itself. For example, in Java, getting the name of a class or method at runtime is reflection.

In Java, most of the reflection classes and methods are in the java.lang.reflect package, and tools for dealing with annotations are in java.lang.annotation.

To get started, create a directory to hold files for this tutorial. Create a new basic Java file, and call it Basic.java:

import java.lang.reflect.*;
import java.lang.annotation.*;

public class Basic {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        System.out.println("Hello Java Reflection");
    }
}

If you don’t know what that does, a comprehensive tutorial is here.

Run it with java Basic.java. You should see the output:

$ java Basic.java
Hello Java Reflection

Great! Your Java installation works. If it doesn’t, go ask the Oracle. Or ask OpenJDK, if you’re on Linux.

Getting the Name of a Class

Now, let’s do some reflection! Add some lines to main:

import java.lang.reflect.*;
import java.lang.annotation.*;

public class Basic {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        System.out.println("Hello Java Reflection");
        Class<?> cls = Basic.class;
        System.out.println("The class's name is " + cls.getName());
    }
}

Run it again, and you should see this:

$ java Basic.java
Hello Java Reflection
The class's name is Basic

Whoa! How’d it know that? Let’s see.

First, take a look at this line:

Class<?> cls = Basic.class;

First of all, the ? in Class<?> tells the Java compiler to auto-detect the type argument. In this case, it could also have been written as Class<Basic>, but that would be more typing. I could also use var, which tells it to completely auto-detect the type:

var cls = Basic.class;

However, var is not supported in JDK 7, which is what FTC uses. If you have JDK 9 or higher, you can use var, though.

Next, Basic.class tells it to get the Class<T> (T is a type argument) instance for BasicClass<T> is core for reflection. So essential, in fact, that it is included in java.lang.

On to the next line:

System.out.println("The class's name is " + cls.getName());

Everybody should be familiar with System.out.println. If not, I urge you once again to check out this tutorial. However, cls.getName() should be new. If not, I urge you to skip to the next heading, wait for part 2 (annotations), or seek out a more advanced tutorial.

getName is a method on Class<T> that gets the qualified name. For example, if Basic were in the com.not.a.domain package, cls.getName() would return "com.not.a.domain.Basic". Since Basic is not in a package, it just returns "Basic". If you need an unqualified name, without the package, use Class.getSimpleName.

Getting the Name of a Method

To access methods, we use the Method type, which is in java.lang.reflect. Methods can be accessed using Class.getMethod or Class.getMethods, which return a specific method or a list of all methods in the class, respectively.

Add a method to Basic:

public void doSomething(String whatever) {
    System.out.println("Doing something very interesting...");
    System.out.println("Whatever is " + whatever);
}

Now, just to make sure it exists, create an instance in main and try it:

Basic basic = new Basic();
basic.doSomething("whatever");

Run it, and the whole output should be:

$ java Basic.java
Hello Java Reflection
The class's name is Basic
Doing something very interesting...
Whatever is whatever

It works! Now, let’s get a Method instance for that method. Remember, cls is Basic.class. The try block is necessary because getMethod can throw a NoSuchMethodException if the method was not found.

try {
    Method doSomething = cls.getMethod("doSomething", String.class);
} catch(NoSuchMethodException e) {
    System.out.println("A whatsit happened: " + e.toString());
}

Now, let’s look at the interesting line:

Method doSomething = cls.getMethod("doSomething", String.class);

If you look at the description for Class.getMethod, you can see that the first argument is the name of the method, and any remaining arguments are parameter types, as Class<T> instances. In this case, since the method is called doSomething and it takes one String argument, the first argument is "doSomething" and the second argument is String.class.

Now that we have the Method instance, it’s easy enough to get the name (inside the try block):

System.out.println("The method's name is " + doSomething.getName());

Now, the output should be:

$ java Basic.java
Hello Java Reflection
The class's name is Basic
Doing something very interesting...
Whatever is whatever
The method's name is doSomething

It worked!

If something went wrong, here’s the full code of Basic.java (organized into sections):

import java.lang.reflect.*;
import java.lang.annotation.*;

public class Basic {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // SETUP //
        System.out.println("Hello Java Reflection");

        // GETTING THE NAME OF A CLASS //
        Class<?> cls = Basic.class;
        System.out.println("The class's name is " + cls.getName());
        
        // GETTING THE NAME OF A METHOD //
        Basic basic = new Basic();
        basic.doSomething("whatever");
        try {
            Method doSomething = cls.getMethod("doSomething", String.class);
            System.out.println("The method's name is " + doSomething.getName());
        } catch(NoSuchMethodException e) {
            System.out.println("A whatsit happened: " + e.toString());
        }
    }
    public void doSomething(String whatever) {
        System.out.println("Doing something very interesting...");
        System.out.println("Whatever is " + whatever);
    }
}

See you in Part 2, which will go over annotations!

Other Notes & Exercises

  1. Try putting Basic in a package, and see what getName returns. Then, try to get the name without the package name.
  2. If you aren’t sure how to set up your IDE, I use Visual Studio Code with the Java Extension Pack.
  3. The java command-line tool, as used above, can also compile files on-the-fly. If you experience problems, you can use the longer version:
    $ javac Basic.java
    $ java Basic ...
  4. Use the documentation for Method to figure out how to get the name of the class that declared the method.

EPS Supports Manchester Machine Makers

Isaac Vernon and Charlotte Ruley receive check from EPS’ Julie Glover. 

FTC Team #16221, The Manchester Machine Makers 4-H Club, is pleased to announce that Engineered Printing Solutions in East Dorset VT has joined us in a partnership of support and mentoring.  Additionally, they will offer an internship program to team members for the 2021-2022 FIRST Tech Challenge Season. EPS is committed to inspiring our young roboticists, building a community of scientists and engineers here in Northshire.

The competition theme this year is “Freight Frenzy” and the team is busy designing and building a robot to accomplish the tasks outlined by the FIRST organization (www.firstinspires.org).  FIRST was founded in 1987 by innovator and inventor Dean Kamen to promote STEM advancement for young people, and is continued and supported by thousands of volunteers and mentors around the world. 

The Manchester Machine Makers is a 4-H Club with members in grades 7-12 from all over Bennington County. For more information about the team and Engineered Printing Solutions visit www.manchestermachinemakers.org and www.epsvt.com. Additionally, see EPS’ blog post on the topic at https://epsvt.com/eps-donates-manchester-machine-makers/.