MPPS Science Fair

Robots to the Rescue!

Information

Difficulty Beginner (Medium)
Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability This project requires a radio-controlled toy car and a wireless video camera. See the Materials and Equipment list for details.
Cost Average ($50 – $100)
Safety No issues

Abstract

Have you ever heard of the NASA Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity? How about the “bomb squad” robots that police and the military use? These are places that are hard for us to reach (Mars), or dangerous for us to be near (explosives). Because the human operators are usually far away from the robot, driving one is different from driving a car. Operators rely on information sent back from the robot, including pictures and video. In this project, you will build your own simple mobile robot and test your ability to operate the robot when you cannot see it.

Objective

Build a simple robot using a radio-controlled toy car and a wireless video camera. Test your ability to drive the car when you can only see the video from the camera compared to when you can actually see the car.

Introduction

Humans use robots for many different things. Some robots in factories automatically put things together. Some robots look like, and even talk like and interact with, humans (the kind of robot you will see most often in movies). Some do things that humans find boring, like vacuuming. Others do things that are dangerousor difficult for humans — this means no human lives are put at risk.

The NASA Mars rovers are a great example of robots that do something difficult – going to Mars! Figure 1 below shows a computer image of the Mars Science Laboratory rover nicknamed “Curiosity.”

Robotics science project NASA Mars rover curiosity
Figure 1. A computer image shows the Mars Science Laboratory (nicknamed “Curiosity”), by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA.

Materials and Equipment

  • Radio-controlled (RC) toy car of your choice.
  • Wireless video camera and receiver.
  • TV or computer monitor with video input that is compatible with your wireless camera receiver (composite, component, VGA, HDMI, or DVI).
  • Duct tape
  • Stopwatch
  • Multiple rooms in an indoor area for a robot “course” (outdoor area may also be an option, depending on the off-road abilities of your RC car)
  • Volunteer to operate stopwatch and keep track of the number of crashes
  • Adult helper who knows how to hook wireless camera up to TV or computer monitor
  • Batteries as required by RC car and camera (check packaging/directions)

Experimental Procedure

  1. Use duct tape to attach your wireless camera (and battery) to your RC (or radio-controlled) car. By combining a sensor with a mobile car, you have now made a simple robot. Our robot is shown in Figure 2.
Robotics science project Search and rescue radio controlled robot car with camera
Figure 2. Our search-and-rescue robot, made from a toy RC car and a wireless video camera.
  1. Connect the receiver of your wireless camera to a TV or computer monitor. Ask an adult volunteer to help you with this step if necessary. (You may also need to read the instructions for your wireless camera).
  2. Practice driving the car around your house while walking behind the car and looking at it. Also practice driving it by looking only at the TV screen. Once you are comfortable driving the car both ways, move to the next step.
  3. Plan a route through your house to use as a test course. Sketch a map of your house (include obstacles like furniture), and plot out the route on this map. This is exactly what scientists, engineers, or robot operators would do. For example, NASA uses satellite images of Mars to plan routes for the Mars rovers. (To see for yourself, search Google for “Mars rover route.”) Police or military officials may use a map of a city or floor plan of a building to plan routes for their robots.You can imagine that the map of your house is actually the site of a real-life disaster scenario. For example, you could pretend that you are navigating your robot through a collapsed building after an earthquake to look for survivors; or you could plant a “suspicious package” in your house (which may be a bomb) that your robot needs to investigate; or you could pretend that there has been a chemical spill and your robot needs to take environmental readings to see if the air is safe for humans to breathe. In any of these situations, using a robot to explore helps make things safer for human emergency and rescue workers.

    Figure 4 shows an example map of a house, and an imagined scenario where the robot must reach a chemical spill in a factory after an earthquake.

Robotics science project Floor plan route for search and rescue robot with camera
Robotics science project Floor plan route for search and rescue robot with camera
Figure 4. An example map showing a planned route through a house (top), and an imaginary disaster scenario based on the layout of the house (bottom).
  1. Try driving the route while you are walking behind the car, so you can see it the entire time (remember that in a real-life disaster scenario, this would not be safe to do!). Ask a volunteer to use a stopwatch to time how long it takes you to drive from start to finish. Also have the volunteer keep track of how many times you crash the car into something. After you finish, write the numbers down in your lab notebook. It might help to make a table like Table 1 to keep track of your data. (Because you will drive the route more than once, both following the car and watching it only on the TV or monitor, you need to number each trial for both — for example, 1a and 1b, 2a and 2b, and so on.)
Trial Watched Time to Finish (seconds) # of Crashes
1a Car
1b TV
2a Car
2b TV
3a Car
3b TV

Table 1. Use a table like this to keep track of your data for each trial.

  1. Now try driving the route while looking only at the TV with the video images coming from the wireless camera. Do not look at the car! This might be easiest with the TV in a separate room that is not part of your planned route. Again, ask a volunteer to time the trip from start to finish and keep track of the number of times you crash the car into something.Note: Your RC car and wireless camera will each have a limited range. Depending on the size of your house, you may need to limit the length of your route to stay within range of both the RC car and the camera. If you do this, be sure to go back to step 5 and do the shorter route while following the car.
  2. Repeat the experiment at least two more times, so you should have six trials total — three while following the car, and three while watching the car only on TV. If you have time, you can do more trials. Add rows to your data table if needed.
  3. Make a graph of your results to compare the trials where you followed the car and the trials where you watched only the TV. Make one graph for the time it took you to complete the course and one graph for the number of crashes you had. Plot the individual point from each trial on your graph. You can also calculate an average for all the trials and plot that point on the graph (be sure that the average point looks different from the individual data points). Figure 5 shows examples of how to set up these graphs.
Robotics science project Graphs of course time and number of crashes vs robot driving method
Figure 5. Example of how to label the axis for your graphs. The graph on the left is used to compare the time to complete the course and the graph on the right compares the number of crashes while watching the car or watching only the TV.
  1. Using the graphs you made in Step 8, compare your results for driving while watching the car and driving while watching only the TV. Which method was faster? Which method had fewer crashes? Which one did you think was easier to do?
  2. It would also be interesting to see if you got better at driving the car over time, as you got more practice and did more trials. You can do this by plotting the time it took you to finish or the number of crashes for the trial number for each type of test. Figure 6 shows a blank example graph.
Robotics science project graph of number of crashes vs number of trials for robot
Figure 6. An example of how to label the axis on a line plot graph comparing the number of crashes for each trial. This graph will whether or not you got better at driving the car the more you drove. You could make a similar graph for the time it took you to complete the course.
  1. Examine the graphs you made in Step 10. Did you get better at driving the car the more you drove it? Did the time to complete the course and the number of crashes go down? Did they stay about the same, or change greatly from trial to trial? How do you think this affects your results?
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