Prototyping with LEGO®s to collaborate on a AVC robot

Cameron, our 14 year old son, and I are teaming up to create an autonomous robot for Sparkfun’s AVC competition.  Right now the plan is to compete in the Logistics Class category.  We are awaiting the announcement that they will do this category of competition this year.  Last year they only had one competitor in this category and are gathering feedback from potential teams on interest.   If the Logistics Class does not go forward this year our fallback is we will ‘reduce’ our design to the Speed Daemon category.  So as we look at our design we will be looking for flexibility until an announcement one way or the other is made.

Mike's Sparkfun AVC Car Wars bot
2017’s Car Wars bot getting upgrades for 2018’s Car Wars

Either way the competition is in September…and there is a lot to integrate! We learned a lot from last year such as we can’t wait til the end.  Last year as a family we competed in the Car Wars category.  The boys were our shooters as they intended to ride in the autonomous vehicle.  Mike was the overall designer and worked on the chassis mechanics and electronics.  I was the software ‘intelligence’ for the visioning system that we were hoping we could add on over the two months.  Yes, I did say two months…and we were moving, selling our house and getting the boys into the schools.  Needless, to say we did not get a complete autonomous vehicle to our liking and thus we look forward to this year’s competition.

There will be a change this year though…Cameron and I will be competing together in a different category than Mike.  Let the designs begin!  Our first step was to review the rules from last year’s Logistics Class category.

Design option sketch
My wonderful sketch capabilities

As we each were thinking through options, it turned out Cameron and I came up with the same idea at first:  Three arms, one for each pool noodle loop that we would like to pickup, transport and unload.  We both mentioned it in our first verbal design discussion, but I could already see that verbal discussions were not going to get us to a design we both understood to move forward.  As I went to sketch the idea of our two arms, another idea came forward and as you can see from my sketch…the new idea was hard to convey with my lack of drawing skills.  So…I broke out my LEGO®s!

When I broke out my LEGO®s, I have to admit that I burst into giggle inside.  I was able to tinker and build with no restrictions.  The only restrictions were to convey my idea.  For those familiar with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, you know what I mean!   I have used LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in group discussions and meetings.   This is what I was looking for…an open-ended way to convey an idea and foster discussion.

Rough prototype of a design option (back in up-position)
Rough prototype of a design option (back in up-position)
Rough prototype of a design option
Rough prototype of a design option (back in down-position)

Shown in the pictures is what I came up with!  This way of modeling was particular useful for my 14 year old son, Cameron. As we reviewed different areas of the LEGO prototype we were able to discuss options and considerations in our design.  Remember the goal in this prototype was not to be TOO exact.  I wasn’t going for a full mock-up and working prototype.  We are only in the brainstorm and design stage, so no need to go all out, but to provide a basic structure to resemble the idea and if possible,  add some detail that could be pointed to that would offer opportunities for discussion.  This prototype took about one hour to build, but has already initiated more energy into the discussions.  In my first discussion using the model, I could see a light bulb go on and he was able to immediately begin to make references to specific design features.  I can already see the difference it has made in our team and I’m sure it will be used quite frequently in our project as we close in on the design details.