Category Archives: Robotics

2023 Indiana Robotics Championships

March has become one of my favorite times of year, and not just because of the weather or basketball. One of my favorite events to attend is the annual Indiana Robotics Championships in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. This year was no exception.

Indiana VEX Robotics Championships
Opening Ceremonies at the 2023 Indiana Robotics Championship in Indianapolis.

Although I’ve never actually competed in the event, I’ve attended for many years. The sheer energy and excitement at the competition is infectious. You can’t help but be astonished at the amount of hard work (and sometimes doughnuts) the teams put into this effort.

Middle School VEX IQ teams competing in the Indiana Robotics Championship.
Some VEX IQ Middle School Teams competing.

The size of the event is also impressive, this year there were over 10,000 attendees and 318 teams competing. And as a volunteer judge the last 2 years, I’ve learned the knowledge and skills that the kids participating have is even more impressive. From mechanical and programming skills to creativity and especially project management, which some learn quicker than others, these kids are learning things that will help their future careers and life.

This year the competition has another record, 157 Indiana teams qualifying for the VEX World Championships in Dallas, Texas. Some of the teams are asking for support to attend. If you’d like to help an Indiana team, a fund raiser has been set up.

2022 Indiana Robotics Championship

2022 VEX Robotics Indiana Championship from the stands.

This last weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering for the Indiana VEX Robotics Championship in Indianapolis. While I’ve been to both FRC and VEX competitions, this annual event at Lucas Oil Stadium still stands out as my favorite. Sponsored by Techpoint Foundation for Youth, this year there were 274 enthusiastic teams competing and 1500 students there at the Saturday event.

Indiana VEX Robotics Championship Judging
Taking a break during judging at the competition.

I ended up being one of the judges for the middle school VEX IQ Challenge section, which included around 80 teams. For this event we broke into pairs to interview the teams in the morning, then met later in the afternoon to combine scores from their engineering notebook judgements, in-person interview rubrics, and match scores to develop the awards and winners. As you can imagine for an event this size, it takes a LOT of organization, hard work & hustle by the organizer to make this all happen that day!

Indiana State Championship VEX Competition area which includes both IQ and VRC robotics.
Main competition area for the middle school VEX challenges.

But when you listen to the excitement, the passion and what the teams are learning, you realize what a makes it such a great event. It not only teaches youth STEM skills but they learn about teamwork, project management, and much more. This event has turned into the biggest robotics competition in the US, and Techpoint Foundation for Youth works hard to make it happen. You can read more about this year’s event in their blog post and some highlights of this year’s event in this video.

Castlemakers PuttCode

CoderDojo mini-golf hole with launch pad.
CoderDojo PuttCode mini-golf hole with launch pad.

Project information on PuttCode, where teams of 2-4 kids build and program a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot to drop a golf ball in a Putt Putnam County mini-golf hole.

The goal is to build a robot using a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit that picks up a golf ball and puts it in the hole of a 3′ x 7′ miniature golf hole. The playing course obstacles & construction can also be used by the robot for sensing. Special thanks to Putnam County 4H for loaning us some of their EV3 kits.

There will be several levels of competition:

  1. There will be a colored rectangle in the lower left corner that the robot is placed into, then the robot has to find the hole and drop the ball into it.
  2. In a more challenging level, the robot can be placed anywhere on the playing field, then has to find the hole.
  3. At the highest challenge level, the robot has to pick up the ball from a tee, drop it in the hole, then return to the tee for another ball and repeat as many times as possible in 5 minutes.

The first two levels are not timed, however after 5 minutes if the robot has not found the hole, then the judges can call ‘time’ and move on to the next team.

Groups will be demonstrating their robots on the playing field from 9-11 Saturday morning September 15th at the  Greencastle Farmer’s Market!

Last updated on 9/14/18


Indiana VEX Robotics Championship

Indiana VEX Robotics Championship on 3/10/18
Indiana VEX Robotics Championship on 3/10/18 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

If you missed the Indiana Vex Robotics State Championship in Indianapolis last Saturday, you missed a great event. This was the first time it’s been held at Lucas Oil Stadium and despite stadium size with over 300 teams participating on 6 stages it seemed like the right choice!

One of the middle schools competing in the competition.
One of the middle schools competing in the competition.

Indianapolis has hosted VEX robotics competitions for at least 6 years – an initiative that came out of the mayor’s Office of Education Innovation. Each year it’s grown and with Techpoint Foundation for Youth’s (TPF4Y) statewide elementary school initiative, they became the host for 2018 event which combined 3 separate events (elementary, middle school, & high school) in 2017.

With over 900 teams in Indiana, I was unable to find anyone that made it to the event from our area. Should Castlemakers help organize a local event to encourage more teams? Comment or send us an email ( if you think we should!

Subaru Indiana Automotive Tour

Some of the kids that went on the trip pose in front of a vehicle in their lobby. Photography is not allowed in the facility for group tours.

Earlier this month we arranged for a Subaru Indiana Automotive (SIA) plant group tour in Lafayette, Indiana.  The 2.3 million sq. ft. plant was officially opened in 1989, but has undergone some remarkable expansion the last few years to a facility that has now almost doubled in size. Cars were coming off the production line every 63 seconds when we visited; it will be under a minute by November.

We had 29 people sign up for the tour, which takes you through the stamping, robotic welding, paint, inspection, and assembly areas. Most of the tour is in the overhead catwalks, which offers a great view weaving between the 16+ miles of overhead conveyors hauling parts and vehicles. You get a chance to see body parts made from giant rolls of steel, a symphony of over 800 robots welding and assembling car frames and components, and then it all coming together into a finished product that’s driven off the assembly line. With over 4 million square feet of building space, we hardly saw it all but it still left both young and old amazed at how this small city of over 5000 workers creates  soon to be 390,000 drivable vehicles a year!

Thanks to SIA for allowing us to book the group & giving us the great tour. Everyone that could make it loved it and we seem to have enough interest to do other group tours in the future.

Building A Robot at Wonderlab

Wonderlab/Bloominglabs workshop on building a light seeking robot from motors, switches, and a few electronic components.
Wonderlab/Bloominglabs workshop on building a light seeking robot from motors, switches, and a few electronic components.

Another good regional resource for kids STEM activities is Wonderlab in Bloomington, Indiana. Besides being a fun place to visit, they also offer summer day camps for kids through 6th grade (and mentoring opportunities for those older) that can range from crazy contraptions and electronics/engineering to TV technology. They also have occasional special events, often on weekends or during school breaks, that anyone can sign up for.

A completed 'BrainBot' - light seeking robot based on the SunBEAM seeker robot.
A completed ‘BrainBot’ – light seeking robot based on the SunBEAM seeker robot. These use $7-8 in parts and the robot seeks out light using the two photosensors that drive the rear motors.

Bloominglabs, the community makerspace in Bloomington, put on a 3 hour Brainbot building workshop over spring break at Wonderlab for kids and adults. Since we had some experience teaching kids to solder, ended up helping with the workshop and now helping to improve the workshop instructions. Bloominglabs also helps the Monroe County Library with speakers for the summer Make It Digital series, put on Makevention every year, and have an open shop night every Wednesday evening for those interested in making.

As we work towards creating a Putnam County makerspace, the robot building workshop is a good example of what Castlemakers will offer. Of course a makerspace is much more than just classes. But the goal is sharing/helping people to learn skills with arduinos/microcontrollers, mechanical devices, 3D printers, and more. And with the right physical location that may include welding, woodworking, jewelry making… all things that makerspaces in other cities offer.

Strandbeest Exhibit in Chicago

An earlier Strandbeest, Animaris Apodiacula. On the far wall you can see a picture of his workspace and that room is full of parts used to make them.
An earlier Strandbeest, Animaris Apodiacula. On the far wall you can see a picture of Theo Jansen’s workspace and that room is full of parts used to make them.

Spring break turned out to be more of a making experience than expected, starting with the Strandbeest exhibit in Chicago and then taking a Chicago Public Library makerspace class and later one about laser cutting at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Fab Lab.

If you haven’t heard of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests, and even if you have, the Chicago Cultural Center has a fabulous exhibit for anyone interested in mechanical creatures. You get to see what an eccentric artist can do when combining engineering and art. Jansen’s wind powered beach creatures have evolved over the last 25 years, getting more sophisticated by storing wind energy, sensing when walking into the water, and even self-correcting to prevent them getting stuck. Some even anchor themselves if they detect a storm, all without any electronics just plastic pipe, cloth, and recycled bottles.

Close-up of the Animaris Suspedisse before the walking demo. Over by the windows you can see visitors walking a smaller one.
Close-up of the Animaris Suspedisse before the walking demo. The plastic pipe you see in the foreground hanging down with red tips is part of the propulsion system from the plastic bottle stored air. Over by the windows you can see visitors walking a smaller one, here’s a video.

Check the schedule if you go, you can watch a 42’ long Animaris Suspendisse walk or they might actually let you move an Animaris Ordis by yourself! The exhibit also included the evolution of the creatures and a small case of what other inspired people in the making community have done with his designs. Hamster powered Strandbeest anyone? How about 3D printed Strandbeests? The Segway like device inspired by a Strandbeest was pretty impressive too! Anyone interested in building a Strandbeest here?

The Chicago Cultural Center is a beautiful building itself and just across the street from Millennium Park – you can see Cloud Gate from many of the windows on the east side of the building. Make sure you check out the other exhibits in the building and look at the incredible dome on the 2nd floor of the Center.

I’ll cover the workshops on making your own greeting card using a electronic (vinyl) cutter and making a custom acrylic keychain with laser cutter in a future post…

Testing the Ozobot

Experimenting with ozobots & cubelets
Dunkin works on one of the prototype tests for the ozobot. A few cubelets are in the lower left corner.

In today’s meeting we looked at ozobots & dug out the cubelets to try and get the Bluetooth control working. Technical difficulties prevented the cubelets from  working with the remote control app. But the ozobots were a bigger hit anyway with both the kids and adults there.

Ozobots are tiny dome like robots that have optical sensors that are used to follow lines. These lines can also program the little guys, through shapes and colors. Using a marker they will follow the line you draw but by using different color patterns they will change speed, change direction, pause, stop and even count.

Castlemaker kids try an ozobot on the maze they created
Path that the kids developed to test the ozobots. In this trial it’s not doing so well, but has a chance to redeem itself if it gets the square root of 1 correctly, otherwise it goes into the “imponderable death of doom.”

It was amazing to sit back and watch the kid’s creativity. After a brief introduction to the ozobot, the kids discovered much more on their own. Following mazes and lines drawn on paper, along with guessing which branch the ozobot would take dominated the afternoon.

The kids decided to “test the robot’s artificial intelligence” by creating questions that the robot could ‘answer’ by choosing the right path. The maze they created started with simple questions like 4 divided by 4, then progressed into more difficult questions like which country created french fries. There were plenty of death traps and black holes along the path for the ozobot if a wrong decision was made. They decided to conduct tests for both ozobots , you can watch one trial in this video. Of course the robot didn’t really evaluate the questions, just took a random path, but they still had fun.

The final test path they created. You can see one of the ozobots following the line near the top of the picture. In this trial it picked the correct answer for 4 divided by 4 and even chose the robot vs. human path.

The ozobot color changing capability was a huge hit (different colored lines cause the bot’s LED to match the line color). They are somewhat sensitive to line width, but it’s not a huge factor. The large dry erase board attempt didn’t work well, the bot would eventually scrape off some of the marker then stop. Ozogroove, the dancing app, was pretty useless on a Nexus 7 – don’t bother to install it on that tablet at least.

We’re going to have to experiment some more with hand drawing the ozocodes, the programming language for the robot. It seemed to be inconsistent, sometimes working and sometimes not, even for the same color coded lines. Printed ones worked great. There’s also a coding language, ozoblocky, but that will be a future meeting.

Brushbot Build

Some of the kids try to figure out the effects of toothbrush bristles, we had 3 different designs and a few added toothpick stabilizers. Several tried 2 vibrating motors and different sized batteries, which could change the Brushbot’s path and speed.

Our Brushbot build this last Sunday turned out well. This is a popular kids project, to the point now where you can even buy kits to make them. We did it the old fashioned way with a toothbrush, pager motor, battery and double-sided tape.  Thanks to Dollar Tree and a bulk order of motors from China, they cost less than $1/piece and many of the kids made them with their own toothbrush!

testing brushbots
An old hexbug track made a good testing course for the Brushbots, although several kids also used notebooks and other obstacles on a large flat table to make a track to test different Brushbot configurations.

If you’re like many parents looking for summer opportunities for your kids, this coming Saturday February 21rst, the 26th Annual Summer Camp Fair will be going on from 11-3 in Indianapolis at the Fashion Mall. I try to keep the events page updated with other regional STEM opportunities, if you hear of something you feel others would be interested in let me know.

Also a few of the adults have started building a Robobrrd, a felt-covered interactive robotic bird made of popsicle sticks that uses an arduino micro-controller. At this point it’s still for adults (or older kids) as we figure out how it could best be made by the larger group. Feel free to join us, you’ll be helping other kids down the road. We’re meeting on Tuesday nights at 7 pm, 605 Crown Street at least through March. Again you can always check the events page.

Brushbot Meeting

Brushbot prototype
Brushbot prototype for this Sunday’s build project. Links on how to make them and other modification tips are on our Robotics page.

This Sunday we’ll be making Brushbots using a toothbrush, vibrating pager motors, and a battery. We’ll have a small racetrack to test them, so be thinking about how they can be modified to be more stable along with what kind of bristles would work best and how to steer them.

A very short video of the prototype in action you can view here.

Anyone is welcome to join us, we’ll be meeting at 605 Crown Street at 2 pm on Sunday February 15th.