AIMing for Automated Vehicles

Paul F. Grayson, AIMing for Automated Vehicles blog, Control Engineering

The U.S. armed forces have had smart weapons for a long time now. It is just recently that they realized they need smart supply trucks. Hi, I am Paul F. Grayson, Team Leader of American Industrial Magic (AIM), one of last remaining teams of the 390 teams that worked on vehicles for the DARPA Grand Challenge series of unmanned vehicle races. AIM is working to save soldiers lives by searching for ways to make driverless Army supply trucks affordable. AIM is funded by donations from individuals like you who want to speed up the fielding of this life-saving technology. With this blog, you can look over my shoulder while I and my team work on  this important technology. You will get a chance to look into the world of unmanned robotic vehicles, see some of the things that I see, and puzzle over the challenges of making vehicles driverless. Welcome to my world!



FIRST Robotics Team 3767: Teamwork life lesson

FIRST Robotics Team 3767 gets a life lesson applicable for any project: Work as a team or die, derived from a 10-minute motivational explanation from guest speaker U.S. Army Sgt. Nathan Weemhoff.

February 13, 2011

Proposed “T” shirt design for FIRST Robotics Team 3767 modeled after the chalk talk on Teamwork given by Sergeant Weemhoff.FIRST Robotics Team 3767 learned a life lesson applicable for any project, about the necessity of teamwork, especially in the face of a looming deadline. Here was the situation as I found it Friday morning 2-11-2011: There was less than two weeks left until Bag-it-day when all work on the FIRST robotics competition robot will have to stop, and the robot has to be sealed in an evidence bag. Mr. Wilson was missing for a second day, and for a second day, a substitute teacher would be trying to contain and guide a chaotic Robotics class. With the amount of work remaining to be done on the robot arm, on the robot claw, and software adjustments needed, there was no time to spare.  The team had to immediately shift into crisis mode and start meeting every day after school, and all day Saturday.  Attitude had to improve or there would not be much of a robot to show at the Michigan Regional FIRST Robotics Competition March 4 & 5, 2011.

     Luckily, as it turned out, the substitute for Friday was an experienced combat veteran, a US Army infantry Sergeant named Nathan Weemhoff (photo below).  As background, I explained my military background (to quickly establish common ground) and showed him the AIMing for Automated Vehicles blog entry on Control Engineering magazine online: FIRST Robotics Team 3767: One day in week 4 of the build session.

Now up to speed, he agreed there were problems that needed fixing.

     While waiting for the earlier class to end, I asked him, as a teacher and sergeant, if he thought the teamwork handout I prepared would correct the robotics class’s lack of understanding on this topic. His opinion was that the handout would quickly be discarded and forgotten. He opted for a practical, first-hand case study in teamwork and its consequences as a more effective means of reaching over-papered high school students.

     Once we reached classroom B101, rather than introducing him as a substitute teacher (who often receive little respect from students), I introduced him as our guest speaker for the day and explained that he would do 10 minutes on the fundamentals of teamwork, based on his military understanding of the subject.

     He began his presentation by describing his combat unit and how team members work together to clear a room. He explained how each person’s life depends on doing the assigned task well and on other team members to do the job they have been assigned. In each example he gave of not working as a team, one or more people would die. When everyone did their assigned task and could count on others to do the same, no one died. He pointed out that working as a team in preparing for FIRST Robotics Competition was very similar to how a military combat unit operates (except for the risk of getting killed part).

     All students in the room gave the sergeant’s presentation their undivided attention. I have never heard a high school classroom as quiet as room B101 was for the 10 minutes Sergeant Weemhoff sketched on the whiteboard in red felt-tip pen and engaged students with examples of how to work as a team and the military consequences of not doing so. There were no other sounds in the room.

     When the students resumed work on the robot, its sub systems, and the support functions, they did so with a completely different attitude.

     Several students tried to sum up what they had heard in short phrases while they worked.  The final version was the phrase: “Teamwork … or die.” While that wasn’t an exact quote from the presentation, I agreed that it seems to summarize the meaning. It was further suggested that we include it on our team “T” shirts along with a sketch of a rectangle with four Xs from the white-board presentation. (See above.) Those who were there will immediately be reminded of the necessity of teamwork.

     As the class ended, all the robot parts were packed onto the carts and the carts wheeled to the storage area without the usual resistance. I was so surprised that this was being done on its own that Alex had to remind me that I had the key to the storeroom and needed to let the carts in.  How long will this teamwork inoculation last? Only time will tell. Keep watching here for further developments.

Sergeant Nathan Weemhoff – US Army infantry and substitute teacher for roboticsSergeant Nathan Weemhoff – US Army infantry and substitute teacher, in front of Robotics and automation display outside of classroom B101, left.  Simone skeleton, right.

ARE YOU INVOLVED in FIRST Robotics or in another mentoring engineering role? Leave a comment here!

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     Read other posts about this FIRST Robotics team in the AIMing for Automated Vehicles blog.


Paul F. Grayson - 4-H Leader, 4-H Robotics Club of Traverse City

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