Modern Evolution of the Classic Water Rocket

Whether it was home-built from scraps or one of the various commercial versions that have popped over up over the years, there’s an excellent chance that the average Hackaday reader spent at least a couple of their more formative summers flying water rockets. You might not have realized it at the time, but with shirt soaked and head craned skywards, you were getting a practical physics lesson that was more relatable than anything out of a textbook. Water rockets are a great STEM tool for young people, but in a post-Fortnite world, the idea could use a little modernization to help keep kids engaged.

With his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Darian Johnson] hopes to breathe some new life into this classic physics toy. His open source kit would provide a modular water rocket intended for a wide range of ages thanks to various payloads and upgrade options. The younger players would be content to simply see it take off, but high school students could outfit the craft with an electronic payload to capture performance data or an automatic parachute.

[Darian] has been building and flying rockets with his own children and other youth in community for years now, and has found them to be a huge hit. They became so popular that he started thinking of a way to not produce them in larger quantities, but make them stronger so they would survive more flights.

Of course, the fuselages are easy enough; there’s no shortage of one-liter bottles you can recycle. But for the nose cone, fins, and ultimately even the launch pad, [Darian] turned to 3D printing. This allows him to continually optimize the design while delivering repeatable performance. When he had a semi-printable water rocket on his hands, he started to wonder if he could get older kids interested by adding some electronics into the mix.

His current proof of concept is a flight data recorder using a Adafruit nRF52 Bluefruit LE Feather, a BMP280 sensor to determine altitude via barometric pressure, and an SD card breakout for local data storage. Long term, [Darian] wants to be able to stream flight data to student’s phones over Bluetooth, with the SD card providing a local copy which can be analyzed after the flight.

[Darian] has leaned heavily on the open source community for the various components of his water rocket kit, and is dedicated to giving back. He hopes that his final kit will allow communities to create engaging STEM activities at little to no cost. This includes creating a repository of lesson plans and designs contributed from others experimenting with water rockets. It’s a noble goal, and we’re excited to see how the project progresses.

Bringing Battle Bots into the Modern Classroom

With the wide array of digital entertainment that’s available to young students, it can be difficult for educators to capture their imagination. In decades past, a “volcano” made with baking soda and vinegar would’ve been enough to put a class of 5th graders on the edge of their seats, but those projects don’t pack quite the same punch on students who may have prefaced their school day with a battle royale match. Today’s educators are tasked with inspiring kids who already have the world at their fingertips.

Hoping to rise to that challenge with her entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Misty Lackie] is putting together a kit which would allow elementary and middle school students to build their very own fighting robots. Thanks to the use of modular components, younger students don’t have to get bogged down with soldering or the intricacies of how all the hardware actually works. On the other hand, older kids will be able to extend the basic platform without having to start from scratch.

The electronics for the bot consist primarily of an Arduino Uno with Sensor Shield, a dual H-bridge motor controller, and a wireless receiver for a PS2 controller. This allows the students to control the bot’s dual drive motors with an input scheme that’s likely very familiar to them already. By mapping the controller’s face buttons to digital pins on the Arduino, additional functions such as the spinner seen in the bot after the break, easily be activated.

[Misty] has already done some test runs with an early version of the kit, and so far its been a huge success. Students were free to design their own bodies and add-ons for the remote controlled platform, and it’s fascinating to see how unique the final results turned out to be. We’ve seen in the past how excited students can be when tasked with customizing their own robots, so any entry into that field is a positive development in our book.

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Low-Cost, Arduino-Compatible Drawing Robot

Bringing women into technical education at times seems to be an insurmountable challenge. As a counter, a small drawing robot created by [MakersBox] might help. The robot was used in a ChickTech workshop for teen girls.

640px-Turtle_draw
“Turtle draw” by Valiant Technology Ltd..

The goals for the robot were to have an easy to build, easy to program robot that did something interesting, and was also low-cost so the workshop participants could take it home and continue to learn. These requirements led [MakersBox] to the Adafruit Pro Trinket 3V, stepper motors for accuracy, and a 3d printed chassis to allow for customization.

Another version of the Arduino should work without any problems and even possibly a Raspberry Pi, suggests [MakersBox]. With the latter’s more diverse programming environment opening up a lot of possibilities

Drawing robots like this for education are not new. [Seymour Papert] created one of the first turtle robots, seen at the left, in the 1980s. He even created the Logo programming language and adapted it for use with the turtle. An interesting similarity between [MakersBox’s] and the original turtle is the drawing pen is in the center of both.

Hat tip to our friends at Adafruit.

A rose, is a rose, is a rose, even if drawn by a robot, after the break.

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