- Associated Press - Saturday, February 15, 2014

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) - Students developing the robot snowblower at Wausau West High School laugh politely at a joke about the machine becoming self-aware and attempting to take over the world.

“Actually, though,” said Ethan Klein, 17, a senior, “we do want to address safety.” The idea would be to install some kind of sensors around the machine that would shut it down if it got near, say, a car, dog or young child.

Klein is one of 13 Wausau West students working on the robot snowblower project. They don’t call it a robot snowblower, at least not when a reporter is nearby. They call it an autonomous snow removal device. It’s not really autonomous right now, because it’s run by someone via radio control. One of the next steps is to install computer equipment that will allow the machine to run on its own using global positioning satellite signals.

The Wausau West team is one of 15 high school teams around the country developing projects of their own under a program called Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams. Each of the teams was awarded a $10,000 grant to help make each team’s future machine dreams a reality, Daily Herald Media (http://wdhne.ws/1h4Xioc ) reported.

The program was designed to be more than a class project. The machines that are created are meant to be practical and marketable, and capable of being produced in the real world. Imagine sitting at a window, warm, dry and drinking a cup of coffee, while watching a snowblower hard at work, especially given this winter.

Other InvenTeams across the country are hard at work on their projects, too.

SOAR High School in Lancaster, Calif., is working on a alcohol-level detection bracelet. Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C., is designing a school emergency door-locking mechanism. Mount Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska, is building a search-and-rescue unmanned aerial vehicle.

All the teams will converge in June at MIT in Boston to present their projects to educators from the prestigious science and engineering school and leaders from the Lemelson Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to support future inventors. The idea is to challenge and engage young minds, and create an educational project that mimics what happens in research and development in major industries, said Theran Peterson, the technical educationteacher who advises the Wausau West group.

The students have developed working relationships that cater to each other’s specialties and interests. Klein, for instance, has a naturally outgoing personality, and he likes doing many things, from taking pictures to solving engineering problems. He acts as a kind of a project manager.

Brandon Ollhoff, 18, has a practical engineering and fabricating mind, and he has cut apart and welded back together a framework that holds the battery-powered Ariens snowblower auger and blower.

James Waldman, 17, is a video photographer and editor, so he has taken to recording the team’s progress. But they all work together in production and ideas, and it’s not a simple process.

“Making new things is hard,” said Justen Toivonen, 18. One of the biggest challenges the team has overcome so far is solving a traction issue. The robot snowblower has a regular snowblower front, and a battery pack and trailing wheel in the back. The drive wheels are in the center of the machine.

The initial prototype was designed on a rigid frame. When the robot snowblower would hit a ridge or bump with the front chute, it would lift the drive wheels off the ground. The team then designed a frame that had an up-and-down pivot, allowing the front to lift and still keep the traction on the wheels.

The highlight of the project, in Peterson’s mind, is the students’ enthusiasm to learn and build.

Recently, for example, a few of the students were in the shop working on the machine until 9 p.m.

“I had to kick these students out,” Peterson said. That made a long day for the teacher.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Peterson said.

___

Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

blog comments powered by Disqus

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide