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.

I didn’t.

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.