On a test drive with the mini-robot

Berchtesgaden – How to build a self-driving robot? During the Technology Days at the Berchtesgadener Land Student Research Center, students from the St. Zeno, the Realschule im Rupertiwinkel, and the Reiffenstuel-Realschule Traunstein, and made small "MiniBots" out of photo transistors, magnetic switches, and circuit boards.

Actually, at least that was the plan of those responsible for the student research center, there was to be a technology camp: It was supposed to take place last fall, "everyone was very motivated" – until Corona ruined the plans, reports Christoph Geistlinger, managing director of the Student Research Center. The next attempt in March. But it didn’t work out the way they imagined with all the restrictions necessary for Corona. This was followed by the short-term cancellation. If not a technology camp, then at least technology days, a little shorter, with one group from each school on each day. "We are glad that it has come to this at all," says Christoph Geistlinger.

Workplace in the basement

In the workshop in the basement of the Student Research Center, students from the Reiffenstuel-Realschule Traunstein have their workplace. The teachers Monika and Jurgen Gasteiger, who lead the course, have provided the young people with all the necessary information. For each individual component there were experiments in advance to explain the function and interaction in an understandable way: Building mini-robots yourself is a way to inspire young people today.

Next door, in the entrance area of the Student Research Center, which cooperates closely with the Technical University of Munich, adhesive strips are affixed to the floor. The small robots should be able to follow the black and white adhesive strips on their own – technology permitting. This is done with the help of phototransistors, which convert incident light into electric current. They can distinguish between light and dark. Two motors move the palm-sized miniature vehicles. Depending on which motor is activated, curves are also possible. The goal: to follow the curved course of adhesive strips that runs through the room.

The circuit boards used for the small-scale machines are self-made, the parts were soldered by the students on their own, sometimes with the support of the teachers.

Support from Tobias Beyhl

Eryk and Marc, Realschule students in grade 8. Class, going for a test drive: because the robot is ready. Tobias Beyhl, 19 years old, former student at the Rottmayr-Gymnasium and winner of the regional competition of "Jugend forscht", supports the two young people. A few hand movements are needed to get the two antenna-like phototransistors into position, then the first test drive of the mini-bots starts. While one robot accurately detects the black line and moves swiftly over the curved track, the other’s destination is the next wall. No big deal: A little tweaking is needed, and it will work out fine.

Meanwhile, another team is working to build custom-made wooden transport boxes. Each student is to receive an individually designed wooden box for his robot. To do this, the participants – after researching on the Internet – could choose motifs of their choice: Car logos, well-known video game heroes and manga characters were what the technology enthusiasts wanted for the wooden boxes.

The images are lasered into the wooden box with the help of the Schulerforschungszentrum’s own laser cutter. Six years ago, those responsible purchased the device. "We use it all the time," says workshop manager Jurgen Gasteiger. The laser cutter with the funny-sounding name "Speedy 300" has 2,000 operating hours on the clock. "We use it to engrave stone, glass and wood," he says.

The technique days, he said, have been exciting and educational. Sounds like a wish for a repeat next year. Then maybe again in the form of the five-day tech camp.

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