Raise your Table

Some advice to get you ready for competition day

  • Raise your table to countertop height. Last year we worked on the floor, then when we got to the competition, we were a little flustered to have to change. It never even occurred to us to practice at the right height.
  • Practice with the boxes you’ll use to hold your stuff, and with the pit crew tagging in and out as needed
  • Have everyone yell. It will not be quiet and calm at the competition.
  • Try different light. practice calibrating your sensors.

We are preparing for a practice session with another local team, the MOS Robo Eagles.   Looking forward to pizza with friends, and lots of good idea sharing tomorrow!

Good luck everyone.

Photosynth of our table:

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Competition Day


Double Bumper


Double Bumper Schematic

While brainstorming cool hardware ideas, someone mentioned a concept of two bumpers (one in front and one in back) that would both be connected to a single touch sensor. I was dubious at first, but immediately set to work on the idea. After we had a functioning base to build off of, I started by first building just your standard, everyday bumper mounted in the front of the robot, connected directly to the sensor. I then went on to create a second bumper as if there was a sensor there. In place of the sensor, I mounted a rod, which could travel through the length of the robot similar to a drive shaft. The shaft was then connected to an “L” shaped piece, mounted so that it would pivot around the middle. This would change the direction of the energy from the drive shaft to go the opposite direction, which could then be wired to the touch sensor.

The obvious side-effect here is that the robot no longer has a front and a back.

We really think the hardware judges are going to think this is cool 🙂


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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Hardware design


Rest in Pieces, Dead Bot

We Name You DeadBot


Happy Thanksgiving To One and All,


From Batteries Not Included

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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Hardware design


How Many Hours Have you spent so far?

Here’s a tip for you:  last year in a followup questionnaire, they asked us how many hours we spent on FLL.  We had to guess because we had no idea.  This year, we kept a list on the wall along with our schedule thermometer.  We are up to 86 hours

The Schedule Thermometer

Look at how our schedule has filled up nicely!  We are practicing our presentation, demo, skit and song and trying to get it all under 5 minutes.   The only problem is, we cannot stop laughing — it is so much fun!

We have to finish up our last robot mission, and then start practicing all five runs together, and we are nervous about our table time….. but that is what practice is for, right?

We invited another neighborhood team over for lunch on Monday after Thanksgiving and are hoping to share a lot of ideas with them. We hope they can come. It will be fun!

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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Schedule


Get to know BNI-Megan M


My name is Megan and I have been on the team for two years.  I am 13 years old and in 8th grade with Kevin, Nate, and Conlon.  My dad is the coach of our team, Batteries Not Included.

I like to: Talk to my friends, draw, paint, practice clarinet, saxophone, and piano, read, play with my dog and turtle, cook, play games, and daydream.

I was a high S and I on the DISC test (see below).

My favorite subject in school is band, but my favorite academic class is science. I want to go to college to Cornell University.  I want to be a forensic anthropologist when I grow up and be in the Pittsburgh Symphony for clarinet.

For me, Core Values means to work together.  I think it is really important to not think you are above everyone, and listen to everyone’s ideas before you state yours.  You might learn something from other people, and incorporating your idea with others, who knows where you and your team can go!

P.S.: Go Clarinet!


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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Core values


Source Code Control, and QR Tattoos.

This is totally unrelated. We found QR code tattos! And they really scan! They link right here, to this blog.

Have you ever changed a robot program file, only to find out later that your change did not work? Or worse, broke something else?

Did you ever lose a file?

Did you ever have to compare two files, and figure out which one was the current one?

Have you thought about what you would do if your computer crashed and lost all your data?

Has the owner of the laptop with your current code on it ever forget his computer at home?

Well we struggle with all of this stuff. So we have some advice and rules that we follow.

I’ve tried to teach the kids a little about being organized and about source code control, but it is hard problem! Whenever someone asks me how often they should back up their files, I always laugh and say — only once. But you have to back them up *right* before your computer crashes! HA HA HA

The kids have come up with some conventions that they use, and I’ll summarize them for you.

1) Naming conventions – we plan our robot runs, then number them consecutively so that when the operator is selecting the program they will come up in numeric order. Keep the name short and descriptive. “1Rats” or “2germs” works. When the code is in progress, and many changes are being made, I often have them put in their initials and a revision as well. So a working file might look like “1RatsKF4”.

2) Dropbox – since we have two or three laptops at any given meeting, we have standardized on using Dropbox for our save directory. That way, all the code is available to all the users, no matter what computer is in use.

Our team has a gmail address that we all know the password to, and this is what we use for the Dropbox account as well (again, with a shared password.)

3) Saving locations – Each time someone works on code, a new directory is made in the Dropbox with the date as the directory name. Then all of the code from yesterday is copied into today’s directory. This is a way to have a backup snapshot if today’s code breaks yesterday’s — you can go back in time.

4) Backups – USB sticks work great for these. Take one with you to the competition. You can use them also for sharing files with a competitor who likes something cool that you did….

5) Just a note about MYBLOCKS. They are loaded into your software runtime from your user preferences. Take special care to make sure you have these backed up by copying over the user files from your login account to a dropbox folder somewhere. Also, it is very easy to make a change in a MYBLOCK on one computer and forget to propagate it to the other computers. At some point in our development, we migrate to doing all final work on our game-day computer to avoid these issues.

6) Documentation. I wish I could say that we were better about this one. It is easy to do the first time using the comment feature of the software, but it is hard to keep the comments in sync as changes inevitably happen. I try to give the kids an outline of what is most important to document.

a) Starting requirements (“in base, lined up at the 4 line)
b) Hardware requirements (“tow arm on motor c”)
c) Any assumptions about variables or calibration.

Those are all things to help the reader know what they are reading. But mostly, I am thrilled if I don’t have to remind them to comment, comment, comment!

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

– Written by Coach Renze

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Posted by on November 17, 2011 in Software


Get to Know BNI – Ashley (with bonus robot video)

Hi, my name is Ashley! I am twelve years old and in sixth grade.

My favorite school subjects have always been math and science. I enjoy playing the clarinet and piano, archery, and Girl Scouts.

I got into FLL a few months ago when my friend, Julia, told me about it. It turned out to be a lot of fun!

In my opinion, core values mean that you can accomplish work and have fun at the same time, work well in a team and as an individual, and that you are able to apply the skills you learn in FLL to the real world.

Good luck, and have fun!

Here is a link to a video of one of our completed runs, called descriptively “Run 4.” I helped to build the attachments.

Click HERE for Facebook video.

Click HERE to go to our Facebook page

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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Core values


Field Trip!

The manager at our local supermarket told us about……

• Recall notification is fast. Corporate emails management at each store and product is immediately pulled from the shelf. It is tracked with a special scanning code so that all product is accounted for. It is also “blocked” at the register, so someone cannot inadvertently buy it.
• Recalled product is destroyed. The retail store is reimbursed from the manufacturer. If the supermarket created the product (e.g. bakery cookies) then they lose money.
• If someone returns a product because they found a foreign object in it, it is held at the office until a manufacturer’s representative can investigate it.

She showed us a cool $5000 scanning “gun” that has the special “blocked” code for keeping track of recalled product. Here is a photo of Nate with it.

She agreed with us that if food labels were dynamic, information about mislabeled food would get to the consumer faster.


-Julia N.


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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Project


What is FLL?

Due to the large amount of site traffic, we decided to back up a bit and explain what the point of all of this craziness is.

The FIRST Lego League (FLL) competition is a internationally recognized event focused on two main parts: the robot game and the project.

First Lego League is an education initiative aimed at middle school aged kids to inspire them to pursue careers in science and engineering. First and foremost, it’s a blast.

Our team, cleverly named Batteries Not Included, started sometime before last season (September to early December). To be honest, I don’t know much about the founding. I wasn’t recruited for a month afterwards. But apparently a few of my friends got together and ordered the starter kit and went to work. First, let’s back up.

The entire competiton is split into two parts, the robot and the project. The robot is an autonomous vehicle made out of the Lego Mindstorm kit (of your own design) that must perform certain challenges. For each challenge (or mission), your team is awarded points. The team with the most points at the end of three attempts wins.

The project is a research project on a predetermined topic (this year’s topic is food safety) in order to design a solution to a problem within the topic. For example, our entry into last year’s bio-medical topic was a filter designed to prevent clots from leaving the heart and causing massive damage. We wrote up a five minute presentation (and a song) and presented our idea to a panel of three or four judges. We ended up placing 1st in the project and 3rd overall.

This year’s competition is on December 3rd, so we are finalizing our designs and scripts for the big day. If you want to learn more about our team or the competition, check out the links below. Feel free to like/follow/+1 us on our social media sites!


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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Competition Day, Core values, Outreach


Getting to Know BNI-Winston F.

Winston at work on the computer

Hi! My name is Winston F. I like to say that I am one real hardcore video game nerd and proud of it. I own a PS3 (which is always better than Xbox) and a computer. Today I got Modern Warfare 3 for PS3. I play a wide variety of games from RTS’s (Real Time Strategies) like Starcraft 2, FPS’s (First person Shooters) like MW3, and RPG’s (Role Playing Games) like Skyrim Elder Scrolls V. Like all other hardcore gamers out there, I feel that there games have a very vital role in life. First they improve Eye Hand Coordination. Next, they help make children learn problem solving skills needed for adult jobs and projects. Also they teach younger kids learning skills in a fun way that they enjoy rather than paper and pencil worksheets. Finally it teaches everybody teamwork by working together and complete what they need to in a creative fantasy world like World of Warcraft and Minecraft.

Away from video games, in my social life I play Tenor Saxophone and enjoy socializing with my friends. My favorite subject in school is Math because of the problem solving and brain power usage. I also believe that my computer is always in need of something new, so I always search the web for the latest technology and prices. I play MTG (Magic the Gathering) as long as all the boys on this robot team. Also I am in Boy Scouts and enjoy spending my time with friends outdoors chatting and doing fun activities. I am also going to the 2013 Jamboree in West Virginia. I plan to become a doctor when I grow up and spend time with my family. Finally I enjoy watching Day9 which is a Starcraft commentator and shoutcaster. His link is here ——>

What Core Values means to me is the fundamental base to teamwork. Everybody has experienced teamwork somewhere in their life. Since I am in Boy Scouts every time we create something like a monkey bridge or a meal, many people have to work on it to satisfy a group. Even in every day life, like in school when you are doing a group project, Core Values still caries with you from your robot team to your everyday life.

As for controversial thinking, I think that fruit snacks taste good and in the future we will all buy from Amazon. Fruit snacks are squishy, sugary, and irresistible. As for Amazon, …… Well Amazon is just cool so I’ll just say that it will take over the world in the next 351 years. So finally I think that I will become a video game champion at Starcraft 2 in the next 2 years and make it to big Starcraft events like MLG, Blizzcon, and NASL.

So as we conclude our story of my personality, I just want to thank all those out there for supporting video games and other stress inducing activities. I find that all the time that 1337 appears in clan tags WAY to many times.

Thumbs Up for Modern Warfare 3 and Starcraft 2,

Winston  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Core values

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