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Thread: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

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    prof_braino's Avatar
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    Default BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    NOTE: Decided to recommend the Quickstart Boards ($25) for the minimum cost option for the pilot, and the TBot+12Blocks ($149) as the normal option when we get that far.

    Hi All

    Boy Scouts has a new merit badge discussed in thread
    http://forums.parallax.com/showthrea...ew-Merit-Badge

    As it turns out, this is a fledgling effort, and much of the material (documentation, instructions, etc) is still a little rough. At best its confusing, at worst its nonsense.

    For example, the hardware recommended is VEX, Mindstorms, and BOEBOT. At $160 BoeBot is cheapest, and while sufficient for robotic experiments, the cost is about ten times too high for most 12 year olds in my neighborhood.

    I'm trying to determine the LEAST EXPENSIVE, MINIMUM HARDWARE. If I recall being a kid correctly, there was always a steady supply of broken toys from which parts (motors, IR sensors, gears, etc) could be harvested, so I'm going to assume for the moment that these items need not be purchased. So what I'm focusing on is the micro controller.

    I have a certain bias towards the prop, so I would like start from the prop chip as an example of a minimum system. I'm going to assume the kid has access to a parents' minimum PC, for example a netbook.


    My first thought is to use the Quickstart board ($20) and a breadboard ($8) total $28. Another alternative would be a bread board and 40 pin DIP prop, and the additional parts regulator eeprom etc which I did not price out yet.

    Any more suggestions for a minimum prop hardware? I know there are several third party boards, but I don't have all the links in one place.

    Thanks!
    Last edited by prof_braino; 08-01-2011 at 09:20 PM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    If you remove the robot component and rely on "scavanged" parts, another lower cost alternative is the propeller DIP Plus kit ($24.95) + Prop Plug ($14.95) + breadboard big enough to build it on + some space = around $50 total. This gives you breadborading experience/capability and schematic following plus programming plus an unlimited PROP future.

    Protoboard USB ($29.95) + wall wart ($8) + breadboard ($8) = $46

    Martin Hodge's Arduino Shield Compat. (ASC) @ 34.95 + breadboard or arduino Breadboard shield ($15) + wallwart ($8) = $58 solution that has USB connection but wallwart power.

    WBA Consulting's M44D40 module $20) + Prop Plug ($14.95) plus breadboard ($8) = $43

    Bang for the buck, the Quickstart (now $25) and a breadboard is the least expensive entry. The package I mentioned above gives you more flexibility and more hands on with circuits and assembly and hardware learning.

    The trick could/will be finding a pack leader/sponsor that can help out when it comes to assembling things and guiding the little minds down the right paths and helping out when stuck and frustrated.

    The USB port for communication and power is a tough feature/money saver to overlook.

    It looks like someplace around $50 should get the kids going with a number of different options.

    (No offense to anybody with a solution that I left out of consideration!)
    MOV OUTA, PEACE

    ... Rick


    I've stopped using programming languages with Garbage Collection, they keep deleting my source code!!

    "Forth is FUN!"

    Introduction to TACHYON Forth


    PropFORTH Wiki

  3. #3

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by mindrobots View Post
    ... The USB port for communication and power is a tough feature/money saver to overlook.

    It looks like someplace around $50 should get the kids going with a number of different options.

    (No offense to anybody with a solution that I left out of consideration!)
    Good market research Thanks!

    SpinSocket is a set of DIP32 Propeller solutions that can be operated with 2AA's, single cell LIPO, or with higher voltages depending on model. SpinSocket modules require a PropPlug. Prices are TBD at this point.

  4. #4

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Many moons ago, I was a boy scout. (an eon or two maybe)

    Is the expectation that each boy would buy the hardware for the merit badge, or would the council/camp/troop/merit badge advisor acquire a handful of bots that are used for the merit badge. I remember it both ways, I was not expected to purchase an axe for my toten chip badge. But I did have to purchase my car for pinewood derby in cub scouts... As the axe is reusable by the troop/camp where as the car is pretty much a one time thing...

    I know the model railroad group I belong to has a number of guys that organizes the camps where the boy scouts work for their model railroad merit badge, I could see something similar for their robotics merit badge...

    Just a thought
    Jay

  5. #5
    prof_braino's Avatar
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    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    The initial plan (from BSA) is for the troup to sponsor a one hour session and each participant walk away with a robot and a merit badge.
    The only clear requirement is that each project involve a sensor and involve programming.
    While the materials recommend several pre-built robots in kit form, (most?) troups will not buy each participant a BoeBot. Most robots will take longer than an hour for each of design, build debug, and test. Rather than second guess these obviously unpolished requirements, the thought is to describe some minimum set of requirements that might qualify as conditions for a "robot project" and see if the BSA docs can be interpreted or clarified (by BSA).

    We guess that each participants' equipment should cost no more than $35. For this $35 we want to end up with a micro controller that can connect to an existing PC, and be programmed.

    I thought I saw a prop chip mounted on a board for $12.99. Does anyone have a link for this or am I confused again?

  6. #6

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    The entry barrier for cost is the programming interface hardware. Every PC today has a USB port, it's rare to find a PC with a true serial port. You either need a Prop Plug ($14.95), a USB to Serial cable (~ $20) + plus some serial interface parts or a built in USB connector/interface. That's one of the things that makes the Quick Start so wonderful - $25 gets you SO much!!

    Obviously, Scout Leadership has no concept or programming or Robotics...like MOST leaddership! In the time allowed (1 hour), the solution would be a QuickStart, a trial copy of 12-Blocks (or a few communal copies for the troop) plus a few communla robot frames to plug the Quick Start into (e.g. QuickBots (tm) ). This would allow a quick to learn, rapid prototyping environment to program on (12Blocks) and then some shared robot chassis to plug into for testing.

    For $12.99, you can probably build a Prop basic system on a protoboard (Prop, EEPROM, caps, resistor, crystal) but that would take more than 1 hour to layout, wire and solder PLUS you still have the Prop Plug issues for programming.

    {QuickBot is mine unless used before this posting }
    MOV OUTA, PEACE

    ... Rick


    I've stopped using programming languages with Garbage Collection, they keep deleting my source code!!

    "Forth is FUN!"

    Introduction to TACHYON Forth


    PropFORTH Wiki

  7. #7
    prof_braino's Avatar
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    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by mindrobots View Post
    The entry barrier for cost is the programming interface hardware.
    Quick Start so wonderful - $25 gets you SO much!!

    For $12.99, you can probably build a Prop basic system on a protoboard (Prop, EEPROM, caps, resistor, crystal) but that would take more than 1 hour to layout, wire and solder PLUS you still have the Prop Plug issues for programming.
    So we look like two main options:

    1) buy a prebuilt Quickstart ($25) or similar;
    2) build from parts i.e.
    Prop $7.99
    64KB EEPROM (SMT) Item code 602-10001 Price $1.99
    10K ohm resistor 1/4 watt Item code 150-xxxxx Price $0.20
    5MHz Crystal 20 pF HC-49/US Item code 251-05000 Price $1.10
    FTDI FT232RL USB to Serial Chip Item code 604-00043 Price $4.50
    2 @ LED (one red, one blue)
    4 @ 150 Ohm
    1 2 33K Ohm
    1 @ 0.1uF
    1 @ 10 nF
    1 @ NPN transistor
    (old USB cable)

    LM2937ET-3.3 Voltage regulator $1.25

    Both of these would end up about the same cost I guess?

    The thought was that building the hardware (gathering the parts, gathering the tools, learning to solder) are important steps on the journey. Do these get included in the project, listed as prerequisites, handled separately, or other?

    It was pointed out that there are issues with teaching other folks kids to solder; it should be a parent or other one-on-one tutoring rather than "heat up the irons and turn them loose" for group of 12 year olds.

    We are thinking of having one or two prebuilt micro controllers (quickstart or similar) to use at the session, so the kids get to see what a finished item looks like and how it behaves. They would recieve a bag of parts (perhaps #2 above) to take home, and after the session they could build on their own time. Then the "built outs" would qualify them as participants in the debugging/troubleshooting sessions, and finally the programming sessions. Any suggestions on this?
    Last edited by prof_braino; 08-01-2011 at 08:40 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Hi Prof!
    I'm a huge supporter of improving STEM education with robotics. Earlier this year I gave a keynote talk at the Robotics conference on that subject. We've seen great results working with the TBot and 12Blocks (at $149 for the combo it should be a no-brainer for BSA- it's even made in America) We still have a few available from our first production batch- see here: http://onerobot.org

    My team is now working on getting 12Blocks officially recognized in government curriculum- see some of the freely downloadable content here: http://onerobot.org/education.html
    Putting some hardware together is the easy part- getting your typical over-committed kid hooked requires great software and supporting resources. I'd love to collaborate on other Propeller platforms for BSA- If you're interested please let me know!
    Hanno
    Professional IDE to edit, debug, and run SPIN, PropBasic and C: ViewPort
    Visual programming language: 12Blocks
    Multi-function Oscilloscope/LSA/Function Generator: PropScope
    500 page book of Propeller Projects:Programming and Customizing the Multicore Propeller
    Blog:http://onerobot.org/blog

  9. #9
    Cluso99's Avatar
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    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Here are a few suggestions...

    Many have Wii controllers these days. The Wii Controller cannot be easily used because it is the master. However, the daisy chained devices are simply interfaced as they are I2C...
    • Wii Motion Controller (3 axis gyro) {~$10 on eBay)
    • Wii Nunchuck (3 axis accelerometer + joystick/buttons) (~$4.50 on eBay)
    • Wii Classic Controller Plus (has joysticks + buttons) (~$8.50 on eBay)
    • Wii extension cable (use to connect to Wii devices and cut other end to fit to the propeller pcb) (~$2.60 on eBay)
    other interfaces
    • SNES Gamepad Controller (buttons) (~$4.50 on eBay)
    • Nintendo Touch Screen replacement (touch screen via 5 pins and sigmadelta ADC) (~$3.00 on eBay)
    • Bluetooth USB (maybe too advanced) (~$1.50 on eBay)
    Currently the cheapest way to get a PropPlug is to buy a board with this already on it (e.g. Propeller ProtoBoard USB). The FT232RL is way too fine pitch to expect these boys to be able to solder it.
    My Prop boards: CpuBlade, TriBlade, RamBlade, www.clusos.com
    Prop Tools (Index)
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    Prop OS (also see Sphinx, PropDos, PropCmd)

  10. #10

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    The "Rock Bottom Propeller Kit" at Wulfden has most of the pieces you would need. You'd still have to add a breadboard to mount it all on and a PropPlug or some kind of programming interface, so I'm not sure how much it would save you. For $15 (+ $2 shipping) you get (from their site):
    * the Parallax Propeller chip (P8X32-D40) in the easy to breadboard, easy to solder 40 pin DIP package
    * a 24LC512 serial EEPROM, a full 64 KBytes not the usual 32 KB versions
    * 5.0000 MHz crstal, which gives 80 MHz clock wil 16x PLL
    * 3m brand dual wipe DIP sockets, 8 pin and 40 pin
    * pushbutton reset switch
    * 10k pullup resistor for SDA line on EEPROM
    * two 0.1 uf capacitors
    * 16 each of 1/8 watt carbon film series protection resistors in 1Kohm and 220 ohms
    * Parallax Propeller chip sticker showing pin assignments
    * a special LED that has the series current limiting resistor built-in. Handy for debugging, can be plugged to GND and an i/o pin by itself

    * the Propeller requires a 3.3 volt power source. The kit includes a 9 volt transistor battery connector harness, a 3.3 volt regulator, and 2 47 uF capacitors, to build the power supply (user must supply his own battery)

    I've built a couple of little boards with these that bring out all the I/O pins to a single 0.1" header strip that will plug into the edge of a breadboard. It's a quick way to gather all the basic parts you need.

  11. #11
    prof_braino's Avatar
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    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Thanks for all the suggestions. This is looking good. My intent is that this work can be applied to the local school system as well as BSA if there is any success. I'm thinking of making a plan with several options based on participant level of commitment, demonstrated ability, and previous achivenment. This will help tailor the program for each group of kids.

    * "Rock Bottom Propeller Kit" at Wulfden is appealing for low cost, and gaining experience in soldering. Maybe as an intro project? Of course, it

    * TBot/12block is very appealing as a complete package for those demonstratins suffiecient skill/level of commitment. Thise would be an ideal option. The $150 combo price is clearly the best bang for the buck. Parents look a little "iffy" at $150 since I have not presented evidence of success. I will need to start gathering a portfolio of your work before I present to BSA (and the school board).

    * Interfacing to Wii is very appealing for advanced skill project. Everybody has them, they are easy to get.

    I'm still at the pilot stage. I'm focusing on the lowest cost start project, so I can demonstrate the more advanced efforts are worthwhile. This might be slow, so one step at a time.

    The Chibot team is starting with a "make and take" session that should last no more than 1 hour. The plan includes a line sensor that can be used on a later robot. The line folower may be partly assembled and given to the participants as a take-away, to be completed at a later time. The session will include basic testing and analysis of the line follower on test rig. [Use VOM to determine "Sees line/doesn't see line"]

    The actual BSA merit badge will likely take several sessions to achive. The "Make and Take" session is the pilot for the first session. The intent would be the subsequent session would build on the previoous sessiuon, and participants could join at any session appropriate to their ability. Ideally, the final program would be "ongoing" with new members joining as badges are awarded. The entire program would be turned over to the BSA leaders and counselors once the process is refined. My goal is to have a similar program that can be used in the schools, where the older kids help tutor the younger kids as new participants are added. The school program need not be tied to the BSA program, but ideas from one could be applicable to the other.

    I'm thinking the success of the participants of testing the line follower will be one indicator.
    Also, the success of the participants completing the assembly on their own time (and the number asking for help) will be another indicator.

    For a next step, I would like to prepare a minimum cost microcontroller (prop is my bias) to attach to the line follower sensor. I'm thinking of the RBPK. I haven't worked out the PropPlug part yet. Maybe long term we will have a pool that can be borrowed until folks get a part with the FTDI included? The other choice is the Quickstart.

    Please continue with the great suggestions. I want to start presenting to decision makers at the beginning of the school year, September time frame.
    Last edited by prof_braino; 07-26-2011 at 09:15 PM.

  12. #12

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Hi Prof,
    Please keep us posted on your progress! You have some excellent resources at Chibots for help with 12Blocks and TBot. Steve W gave an hour long presentation earlier this year on using 12Blocks to "program at the speed of thought" and Chad (designer of TBot) will be at UPENE with a bunch of them.
    Hanno
    Professional IDE to edit, debug, and run SPIN, PropBasic and C: ViewPort
    Visual programming language: 12Blocks
    Multi-function Oscilloscope/LSA/Function Generator: PropScope
    500 page book of Propeller Projects:Programming and Customizing the Multicore Propeller
    Blog:http://onerobot.org/blog

  13. #13

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    @Hanno, I really didn't need to know that there would be "a bunch of" TBot's at UPENE!!

    @Prof B, the entry prices are very similar ($20-$30) for any of the micro-controllers. Arduinos need a built in USB or an FTDI chip thingie. You can get Arduino Nano and Micro boards but they are still around $18-$20 with a built in USB - they are EASY to breadboard.

    Even the PicAXE chips have strange programming hardware with additional costs for the "standard" cable.

    12Blocks is a very intriguing programming option that would be incredible to introduce programming and give results in a short time frame. I'm looking at it along with my PropFORTH studies. It's a fun environment I'm going to turn my daughter loose on as soon as we get some time........(and dad gets a TBot at UPENE!!)
    MOV OUTA, PEACE

    ... Rick


    I've stopped using programming languages with Garbage Collection, they keep deleting my source code!!

    "Forth is FUN!"

    Introduction to TACHYON Forth


    PropFORTH Wiki

  14. #14
    prof_braino's Avatar
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    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by Hanno View Post
    Hi Prof,
    excellent resources at Chibots for help with 12Blocks and TBot. Steve W gave an hour long presentation earlier this year on using 12Blocks to "program at the speed of thought" and Chad (designer of TBot)
    Steve and Chad helped inspire me to start back in on this. It feels like all the parts are coming together faster and heading toward critical mass.

  15. #15
    prof_braino's Avatar
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    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by mindrobots View Post
    @Prof B, the entry prices are very similar ($20-$30) for any of the micro-controllers.
    Of course, any micro controller may serve as an intro unit, and anyone that wants to use any particular device will be included. I actually have an ATmega128, but I couldn't get AMforth to run on it after version 3.7.

    My bias is toward the prop, so that will be my "first example" since its convenient for me. There are few things I want to do that the prop does not handle, and very few alternatives if any that do more for a better price, and I have not found any processor that has more of the software that I want.

    When I consider PropForth, 12blocks, the OBEX, and the forums versus the alteratives, the data keep pointing to the prop.

  16. #16

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Steve and Chad are very inspirational- I'm just sad I haven't yet met them in person! A while back Steve converted a bunch of BasicStamp2 programs to 12Blocks- they're now here: http://12blocks.com/share2.php. Here's a video of TBot's being assembled in Indiana, USA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmbfY9smrQg

    I may a bit biased- but I think should we should aim higher than an entry level "learn to solder" project. Soldering was an important technical skill years ago- today's kids need to learn how to script/program sophisticated behavior using powerful building blocks...
    Hanno
    Professional IDE to edit, debug, and run SPIN, PropBasic and C: ViewPort
    Visual programming language: 12Blocks
    Multi-function Oscilloscope/LSA/Function Generator: PropScope
    500 page book of Propeller Projects:Programming and Customizing the Multicore Propeller
    Blog:http://onerobot.org/blog

  17. #17

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    I wasn't discounting the Prop. Sometimes people see the Prop Plug as a penalty but the costs really wash out for the most part which leave all the Prop benefits you outline.
    Propeller on!!
    MOV OUTA, PEACE

    ... Rick


    I've stopped using programming languages with Garbage Collection, they keep deleting my source code!!

    "Forth is FUN!"

    Introduction to TACHYON Forth


    PropFORTH Wiki

  18. #18

    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    In my opinion it's hard to beat the value of the Sumobot Robot Competition kit.

    I did a "Robot Camp" back in 2008 http://www.hey-hello.ca/tikiwiki/tik...page=RobotCamp

    After looking at various options at that time I chose the Parallax product

    When you consider the whole education package needed

    fantastic documentation by the manufacturer for tailored for different education levels
    standard platform also produced by other vendors (should keep costs competitive)
    and the many competitions held in various school districts.

    and as it does pretty well everything the" Boebot" does so it's pretty well already approved by the BSA.


    this should be the benchmark for any comparisons.

    Perry

  19. #19
    Cluso99's Avatar
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    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Here is a few thoughts re PropPlug...

    1. There is a USB-TTL plug (uses CP2102) and can be had in a small box for ~$4.60 on eBay (pcb w/o box slightly cheaper). However, it does not bring out DTR (or RTS) but does bring out 5V & 3V3 at low currents. Now, the RST is an input to the chip but the track can be cut and a wire can be placed from the chips DTR to the RST pin. However, this is a tiny QFN chip and the soldering is very fine and not to be attempted by someone without lots of experience. As soon as I get a chance I am going to look at this.
    Has anyone used a CP2102? If so, does it work to the prop OK?

    2. Anyone tried an ATTiny84 with USB (non-compliant LS) to the prop for downloading? I am going to try this shortly. Its a cheap chip available in DIP.
    My Prop boards: CpuBlade, TriBlade, RamBlade, www.clusos.com
    Prop Tools (Index)
    Emulators (Index) ZiCog (Z80)
    Prop OS (also see Sphinx, PropDos, PropCmd)

  20. #20
    Cluso99's Avatar
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    Default Re: BSA Merit Badge minimum equipment

    Well, I just tried the USB-TTL converter, modifying it by adding DTR. It works, even without the transistor circuit (which amazes me - is it really reliable??)
    see here http://forums.parallax.com/showthrea...a-modification
    My Prop boards: CpuBlade, TriBlade, RamBlade, www.clusos.com
    Prop Tools (Index)
    Emulators (Index) ZiCog (Z80)
    Prop OS (also see Sphinx, PropDos, PropCmd)

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