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Tales from A Newbie

posted 19 Dec 2016, 17:50 by Shamik Patel

Everyone was excited on that windy Monday night. The university room was buzzing with energy; a meeting was underway. As I walked into the room, half an hour early, a mix of excitement and anxiousness crept into my body. Was I ready? Did I have enough experience? What did they expect of me? I mean, I’d done robotics before, but nothing like this. Later on, a few of my friends from my school’s (James Ruse AHS) robotics team joined me, all with the same mixed emotions as I had.

Then, with a sharp change of tone, the presentation began. We all began to realise that the team was not the intimidating robotics group we thought it to be. It was more, a welcoming, accepting team that fostered cooperation, commitment and ‘gracious professionalism’. Although all four of my school friends’ excitement faded at the mention of ‘cost… effort… time…’ I was still hooked. By the end of the orientation, I had made up my mind. I was coming to Drop Bears.

On the first week, we learnt the importance of keeping to an original design, by doing an exercise involving the design and creation of models.

During the next week, the team was split into three groups. I was in the ‘newbie’ group, and with a bunch of others, we created an electromagnetic motor, discovering and learning for ourselves, the bare science of how robotics worked. I was intrigued, finally understanding concepts that I had never even thought about before. From this experience, I learnt the importance of precise accuracy and to value quality over time. We also did soldering, for most of us, for the first time. Just the idea of being able to melt metal into its shiny, liquid form at a single touch made me eager to try it for myself. And to my surprise, we did get to try it out. No signatures, payments, qualifications or any kind of requirements were expected, other than a pair of safety glasses. That week, I took home an Arduino Leonardo, a shiny new circuit board, to keep!

In the third week I arrived late to find the ‘newbie’ group in the mechatronics lab, ready to commence some woodwork. Our task was to drill four holes, each the corner of a 2cm x 2cm Square. We used rulers, tri-squares and the drill press. Taking my knowledge of what I had recently learnt about accuracy, I spent the longest time, measuring out my 2cm x 2cm Square until it was perfect. At the end, when mine was measured against the mentor’s square, all four holes could be seen from either end. At the end, we also began on CAD, where we designed three-dimensional objects.

In the final week of that term, we got to program a robotic arm, to pick up and place blocks in certain positions. We learnt the importance of comments and notation, and that when it comes to programming, you have to be careful about the smallest errors. Some of our errors included spelling ‘position’ as ‘positon’ or having a ‘4.1’ as a ‘3.1’. These may all seem like easily fixable errors, but in hundreds of lines of code, errors as small as these could be quite hard to pick out.

Walking out of that final lesson for the term, I was surprised. We had delved deeper in the field of robotics, in the first couple of Drop Bears meetings than I had ever explored in my life. I learnt quite alot from such a small number of meetings. I don’t know how much I will learn from hundreds of meetings over the next few years, but I can be sure, I am looking forward to it.

By Matthew Ku