Now that documentation writing is fully under way and two (and a half) working Luna Moth Bots have worked their way across tables and floors into my heart, it is finally time to unfold the story of what I have been up to for most of the last year. How did I go from dreaming about robots to co-designing and building one? It all started with setting the right goal and somehow finding the right people to help me meet it.
Last year on my birthday at the end of March, I decided to set some goals for myself to be completed by March of this year. Not just little goals, but big, huge, life changing goals that would require me to grow as a person to meet them. Goals that inspired excitement and enthusiasm. For me, building a robot was as big a dream as I could muster and still find somewhat believable. I had been interested in robotics for a long time, but really had few skills to speak of in terms of building or understanding them. I quickly realized that as motivated as I was, I still seriously needed some help getting started.
So, even though I was extremely nervous, I went down to the local makerspace for a soldering class. I thought to myself, why would such accomplished individuals want to hang out with a newbie like me? I really feared that I would be out of place there. Fortunately, I found out that my negative preconceptions were wrong and I was welcomed and I learned a lot. It was a beginner’s class, after all, so they wouldn’t be expecting me to be some incredible genius. (Though, of course, many of them were themselves). In fact, all they expected me to be was, well… me. My main soldering problem was resolved and I was even able to help them with this year’s soldering class.
Afterwards, I got to talking to the people running the class. I really enjoy talking with people. When asked about my interests, I declared that I was going to build a robot!! (echo… echo…) Instead of being met with blank stares or being laughed out of the shop as expected, I was actually informed that I had arrived just in time – they were giving a
talk on building a first robot later that same week. I had just won the geek/nerd lottery! I am pretty sure that I floated home that day and I don’t know how I managed to do anything else for the rest of the week.
Friday night had arrived with the update that along with the talk there would also be a robot petting zoo. All of the week’s anticipation slowly melted into one part enthusiasm, one part joy, and two or three parts abject terror. What if I didn’t understand anything that was being said? What if I got lost in this crowd of geniuses, all of whom were more knowledgeable than me? What made me think I could build a robot anyway? Just how ferocious were these robots that they had to be kept in a zoo?
(I have answers to these questions now: it is OK and often beneficial to everyone involved to ask for clarification; knowledgeable and intelligent people like to share their knowledge with people who are eager to listen; after I stopped underestimating myself I realized that I had the ability in me all along; and the robots were quite literally push-overs.)
I sat down, notebook in hand, and waited for the talk to begin. The speaker, Ed, gave a good presentation and the robots he built were impressive. He introduced the idea of starting with a light sensing “moth bot” and talked about his design’s pluses and minuses. He also warned that it shouldn’t be tried at home since it may be so interesting that one may never want to leave the house again. Even though I thought that bugs were gross, I was intrigued. Not long after that, the talk ended and Ed asked if anyone had any questions. I looked around and no one was asking anything, so I raised my hand and asked “do you have any actual instructions on how to build this robot?” Ed did the best he could by referencing a list of parts, which may as well have been written in Esperanto. Crestfallen, I realized that I was even further from my robot-building goal than I thought. At least there were some cool robots next to me.
Feeling defeated, I thought about my situation. I had probably expected too much, thinking I could just come to this talk and suddenly have all the answers. I knew, though, that talking to Ed some more was probably my best chance at getting the direction I needed. I had looked into various things online and talked to other people before and I just wasn’t finding a project I could access. I tried to think of some way that I could help him out so that he might want to work with me. That’s when it hit me. Suddenly, I was filled with a sense of purpose. I marched over to Ed and nervously uttered the words that would change my life:
If you teach me how to build your robot, I will write the guide.
To my surprise and delight, Ed said yes. Yes! It turns out that he had spent so many years in the robotics world that he was looking to “pass the torch” and transfer his knowledge on to someone new. A guide would be beneficial enough to him that it would be worth taking the time to teach me what I needed to know to write it. To this day I am still amazed that we just so happened to have met – the seasoned veteran and the rookie – both looking for someone like the other person.
It turned out that my original hopes were on the right track after all. I left that day as a robotics apprentice. Armed with Ed’s list of parts, complete with translations and instructions on how to purchase them, I again floated out of the shop, still amazed at my even greater fortune. I thought that my goal would soon be met. Really, though, I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into.