Chris Thompson is the Founder and Director of TEC Foundation, an organization I recently wrote a blog about on 100kSchools.org. With tremendous support and mentorship from the U.S. Navy, NASA, and a lot of involvement and financial support from local communities, TEC Foundation has started opening TEC Hub community maker spaces on the Eastern Shore of Viriginia and Maryland.
Chris recently introduced me to Paul Suplee, whom Chris describes as “a chef/maker/robotics coach/geek herder” — and more formally, the Managing Director of TEC Foundation’s new Worcester County TEC Hub and co-mentor of FIRST Robotics Club Team 4945, a.k.a. Team Titanium Wrecks! This Spring the team won several awards at Regionals, and then advanced to the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis!
They brought two Handibot Smart Tools with them to St. Louis, putting the tools to work cutting parts, and they also demonstrated the Handibot Tool to other teams at the Championships.
Paul is indeed, among other things, a chef, who currently works as an assistant professor teaching cooking classes at Warwick Community College. He’s also the proud Dad of a high school pre-engineering student. To help him and other local students nurture their interest in hands-on engineering and other STEM subjects, Paul volunteered to step in and help run a FIRST Robotics club. Paul’s co-lead in mentoring the group is William Mast, a NASA systems engineer. The group serves any local student, whether in public school, private school, or home-schooled.
Now in its second year, Team Titanium Wrecks has really blossomed. They won several awards at the FIRST Robotic Chesapeake Regionals, which enabled them to move on and attend the World Championship competition in St. Louis.
The team currently has grown to 17 members, with lots of support from parents and the community at large. “Once you’ve been accepted to attend the World Championships, the next challenge is getting there,” said Paul. The team needed to raise $13,000 in just three weeks in order to be able to send the team. The Team’s network of supporters quickly jumped in and with a lot of energy from Paul and the students the funds were raised. “We had support of NASA, the TEC Foundation, a handful of local civic groups and small businesses…lots of people who see the importance of getting students excited about STEM learning.” The students have the support of a mentor from the Navy, two from NASA, one from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), as well as one from Northrup Grumman.
Team Titanium Wrecks has been very busy with projects. Working along with Chris Thompson, the students have become involved with the SeaPerch Project, an educational Navy-sponsored program in which they learn all the aspects of building a working submersible vessel. From the SeaPerch site:
SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in an in-school or out-of-school setting. Students build the ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme. The SeaPerch Program provides students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science, and mathematics (STEM) while building an underwater ROV as part of a science and engineering technology curriculum. Throughout the project, students will learn engineering concepts, problem solving, teamwork, and technical applications.
Paul’s students have learned a multitude of concepts including how to waterproof motors, do wiring, learn about trim and ballast.. and then they operate the submersibles via remote control.
It was just shortly before the World Championships that the team also started working with the Handibot Smart Tool, and they have loved diving in and learning all they can about it. Paul noted, “We tend to work with a fair amount of poly materials, and are trying to minimize the waste involved, so working with the Handibot has got us thinking about ways of accomplishing our tasks with less material.”
“It’s a fantastic CNC tool,” continued Paul. “It really fills a niche. There are a lot of situations where the cost of a larger ShopBot tool is not something that a group can afford. But a Handibot will fit the bill. By using jigs to extend the cutting area, you can do anything on this tool.”
The students quickly put the Handibot tool to use at the World Championships. They made emergency parts, helped out other teams with their needs, and in advance of their trip to St. Louis used the Handibot to make poly trophies to be able to hand them out at the event to winning teams…. and the team did well themselves, ranking 25th out of 100 in the Galileo Division.
Looking to the future, Paul and the team are thinking of using the Handibot Smart Tool to make starter robotic kits that they can sell for around $40. Paul explained, “You’ll see a lot of parents and interested members of the public show up at events, whether at a competition, a Maker Faire, or at the TEC Hub classes, and while they may be interested in trying their hand at getting involved in making — they won’t know where to start or will be daunted by the technology. An inexpensive kit that allows anyone to succeed right away at making some sort of working robot will go a long way.” He jokingly referred to this introductory kit as a “gateway robot.” Once you start making, you’re hooked!
To learn more about Team Titanium Wrecks, visit their Facebook page.