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Raiders of the Lost Can

On Tuesday, March 11, 2014, the Pasadena Educational Foundation sent a group of over two hundred Pasadena Unified middle school robotics students to Caltech to take a lab tour, hear a lecture on neuroscience, and learn about the relationship between neuroscience and programming robotics.

The day culminated in attending Raiders of the Lost Can, this year’s ME72 robotics competition for Caltech students from the two-term engineering design lab for mechanical engineering majors, Mechanical Engineering 72 (ME72) class. This is the 29th year of the ME72 competition which doubles as the final exam for students enrolled in the class.

“This year’s PUSD field trip to see Caltech’s Mechanical Engineering Robotics Competition was bigger and better than ever,” said Mitch Aiken, Caltech’ associate director for educational. “In a new twist this year, Caltech’s James Maloney provided the students with Ipads loaded with the SKIES collaborative learning app so they could document and share their experiences during their lab tours and a presentation on neuroscience.  As they explored the relationship between how the human brain makes decisions and how a robot is programmed to accomplish tasks and solve problems, they shared photographs, observations, questions and comments with each other in real-time.”

In the Raiders of the Lost Can competition, Caltech students were challenged to get an empty soup can to the top of a five-foot pyramid. This year’s students not only rolled, they crawled and flew their robotic inventions to deliver their team’s soup can to the top of a wooden pyramid outfitted with steel ramps, while simultaneously deploying other robotic vehicles to conduct defensive maneuvers, preventing the opposing team from beating them to the top with their own color-coded soup can.

The day at Caltech and robotics classes in most of the Pasadena Unified School District middle schools is supported by the Pasadena Educational Foundation. “The Pasadena Educational Foundation did an amazing job as always, not only sponsoring, but orchestrating the day’s many moving parts and activities,” remarked Aiken.