Take me to your leader
I am not a robotics expert.
I use computers to type words, look up information, and play games. That’s about it.
So, when the multi-hundred-thousand-dollar explosive ordnance disposal robot is around, I’m worried about crashing it.
The helpful U.S. Army sergeants who were in charge of the robot during its visit to Eisenhower Middle High School encouraged me to take it for a spin.
There are opportunities that I turn down. This was not one of them. Concern about crashing notwithstanding, I was in that chair as soon as it was available.
The controls were pretty simple — four different sticks each did different things: drive around, extend and retract the arm, move the arm up and down, and open and close the claw.
Since there was no time limit, I could take my time and make sure I was using the right control at the right time.
The sergeants’ advice was to not look at the robot — rather, looking at the top left of the four video feeds was the right thing to do.
I had a little trouble with that. Using only the screen, I pointed the robot at the cone and started driving toward it. It took me a while to realize I was heading for the wrong cone.
Once I worked that out, I moved more or less smoothly to the proper cone.
The next challenge was with depth perception. There was none.
The lanyard I was trying to snag with the robot claw was not very big and I couldn’t tell how far it was from the claw. That part took me longer than driving or anything else. I sat there trying to figure it out. Eventually, I gave up, got closer than I thought I should, and clamped the jaws closed.
It worked. I snagged the swag.
It may be a little late for me to work my way into a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) career, but for the students who tried it out, the timing is just right.
I did volunteer to be a backup robot driver if the Army ever decided it needs one — if the operator can work without traveling to a combat zone.
Many students who wanted Army swag were willing to do push-ups or sit-ups. I don’t think I need a bluetooth speaker — the cost was more than 200 push-ups for that at the end of the day — and I don’t even know what a dongle is, but I liked the moisture-wicking shirts. Still, I wasn’t going to do push-ups in the hall in my work clothes for a shirt. Assuming I complete the physical challenge, that’s a lose-win. Worst case, it’s an embarrassing lose.
Snagging a lanyard wasn’t as big a win, but driving a robot to do it was a win-win.