FRC 233: THE PINK TEAM Builds SWAT Robot

PrintWhen Detective Christopher Cochie from Rockledge Police Department, Florida, first approached FIRST Robotic Competition (FRC) Team 233 to help build a robot for his SWAT team, he had something fairly simple in mind, like a remote-controlled miniature car with a camera mounted on the hood. The team took his ideas, added some of their own, and came back to him instead with a state-of-the-art robot that could climb up steps, trudge through mud, toss a phone, launch flash bangs, and do much more.

Its creators, a group of students from FRC Team 233, were well-versed in the mechanics of robotics, thanks to the competitions they’d participated in. Given the chance to help their local police officers, they jumped at the opportunity, enlisting the help of their teacher and FIRST mentor Marian Passmore and their FIRST sponsor NASA. (Team members were mostly from the Cocoa Beach area, roughly 15 miles away from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.)

Though it weighs approximately 100 LBs, PDBot is designed so it can be transported by a single person. It has pneumatic canister launchers, for both short- and long-range targets. It’s equipped with a camera, capable of video recording. Its chassis can withstand heat and moisture; its tank-style wheels can move along inclines and vegetation — design features for conquering Florida’s swampy terrain. In field tests, the robot proves strong enough to drag a human with little or no effort. Using its microphone, it can literally talk to a suspect.

Officers may deploy it in crisis situations, for instance, to open up a communication line for hostage negotiation or to distract a hostile suspect. With PDBot providing sight and sound, officers can remotely inspect and assess dangerous environments without compromising their safety. Most likely PDBot will ride alongside SWAT officers when they respond to calls.

Charlie Stankie, one of the students responsible for producing CAD designs for the team, recalled, “[The police department] was even thinking about going to Walmart and buying a remote-controlled car to tow the throw-phone out to the target [a common approach in hostage negotiation] … Over time, imagination led to something substantially more complicated and quite a bit bigger.”

Charlie and his team uses PTC‘s Pro/ENGINEER CAD software (recently renamed Creo Elements/Pro) to design their competition robots. Naturally, they relied on the same package to develop the PDBot. “We built the entire model with all the parts, down to the bolts,” he recalled. “Mainly we did it for spacing, to figure out how we’d have to arrange everything so they would all fit, because it’s a relatively compact package.”

The students also used Pro/ENGINEER to verify clearance among the robot’s moving parts, using the software’s basic mechanical simulation tools.

Kaitlin Lostroscio, the pit crew chief for the team, said, “There’s nothing like [PDBot] out there. Ours is entirely unique. Many other robots would just have a camera … With our long design process, we were able to actually figure out everything beforehand … Now it’s just a matter of working out a few [system] communication issues here and there so that they can get the best distance with it. We don’t want them to have any interferences.”

Though her post-high school aspirations are still up in the air, Kaitlin said, “I know I definitely want to be involved in robotics in one way or another … Biomedical engineering, something like the PDBot — that’s a field of its own, when you think of it, or Mars robot — The list goes on.”

Team 233 proudly wears the moniker The Pink Team. They also wear the team’s color on competition days. Most are content to show their allegiance via a pink t-shirt, but some — both boys and girls — go as far as dying their hair pink. The nickname, as it turned out, was an object lesson in collaboration — particularly, about the importance of group decisions,

“Years ago, at the beginning of it all, they were having a team meeting, deciding the motto, the team color, the mascot, everything like that,” explained Kaitlin. “The guys decided to just leave that to the girls. They didn’t show up to the meeting. So the girls decided, Hey, we’re gonna call it The Pink Team.”

Detective Cochie, who has been on the force for six years and a SWAT officer for four, said, “This project is the best thing I’ve ever been involved in in my career so far. It’s given me pride for my job, pride in my community … The students gave us something that will eventually save the life of one of us.”

FRC 233: The Pink Team keeps a home page here.

More information about the team’s SWAT robot can be found at

You can find more videos from the team at their YouTube channel.

For more, listen to the podcasts with Kaitlin and Charlie below and watch the video clip of the PDBot in action.

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Live Discussion about PTC Creo on Facebook

It’s sort of like a live radio call-in show — except for the fact that it’s taking place on Facebook.

Straight Talk from CAD Designers: Bart Brejcha,” set for next Tuesday, Jan 25, at noon Eastern (9 AM Pacific), is a live discussion in social media. The event is organized by PTC, makers of Pro/ENGINEER, recently renamed Creo Elements/Pro.

At the event page (open to all Facebook users), the invitation reads, “Join us for a live interview with Bart Brejcha from Chicago, IL, here, on the Creo Elements/Pro (formerly Pro/ENGINEER) page on Facebook … Bart will be online for a full hour to answer a couple of questions from us — and from you! Yes, you can chime in to the conversation, ask questions, tap his extensive Creo Elements/Pro knowledge, comment and rate.”

Bart’s bio reads, “Bart is a Creo Elements/Pro champion and surfacing specialist. He is the principal instructor at Design Engine, primarily responsible for teaching the Creo Elements/Pro Surfacing, Cabling, Routed Systems Designer and Manufacturing classes, mainly the plastics part design and the die casting classes.”

Ad hoc discussions about software and hardware take place on Facebook community walls all the time, but this may be one of the earliest live CAD/PLM discussions promoted and presented formally in social media. Of course, this is a paradox in itself, since discussions in social media are seldom “formal.”

Here’s how the organizer plans to deliver the event: The Page Admin (who will do what a moderator usually does in a live discussion) will introduce Bart with a kickoff comment. Then he/she will post about 10 questions for Bart to respond to. But if things get more active than anticipated — in other words, if questions and comments from online attendees come in fast and furious — the moderator will step back and let Bart fend for himself. (God help him!)

Like any other Facebook comments, you can “like” Bart’s replies, or add your own two-cents to his answers. The rules also specify that “Nobody will be blamed for typos or wrong grammar.” (If you do need tips on how to use the apostrophe correctly, don’t contact Bart. Contact me. I’d be glad to go over what you missed in Miss Thistlebottom’s class.)

Like its rival Dassault Systemes, PTC has begun looking at social media as an alternative to traditional project-management and data-management programs. The company develops and markets Windchill ProductPoint, as part of its push for “social product development,” a social media-inspired approach to collaborative product development.

The upcoming “Straight Talk” Facebook discussion is a sign that PTC is willing to practice what it preaches.

PTC Lightning: Prelude to PTC Creo 1.0

It’s a clear blue day in Boston, with a few precipitation in the air. At the Park Plaza Castle, a 14,000 sq. ft. exhibit hall in the heart of Boston, the forecast calls for lightning, with lots of anticipation. For the past several months, PTC has been in a stealth mode, giving away teasers about its Project Lightning but keeping its details under wrap. Today at 10 AM Eastern Time, Lightning strikes, in a manner of speaking.

PTC Lightning brings in a season of change, beginning with a significant reshuffling of the company’s major brands. On the way out are three household names: Pro/ENGINEER, CoCreate, and ProductView. They’re to be replaced by Creo Elements/Pro, Creo Elements/Direct, and Creo Elements/View.

Creo represents “PTC’s vision for the next 20 years of mechanical design,” said Brian Shepherd, PTC’s executive VP of product development. Instead of a single software platform, Creo is “a suite of interoperable, role-specific applications designed from the groundup to be an open system,” he added.

PTC Creo, Marked for Mid-2011
The first phase of PTC Lightning is a simple renaming of its products, effective immediately. This is to be followed by the release of Creo 1.0, scheduled for the middle of 2011, closely followed by Creo 2.0. This new “clean-architecture product,” said Shepherd, “is the one that will solve all the unsolved problems [in product development].”

The unsolved problems, as listed by PTC’ new CEO Jim Heppelmann (he officially took over from Richard Harrison this month), are usability, interoperability, and large assembly management. (For more, read “PTC User World Event” report, June 8, 2010.)

Creo is not an all-encompassing “big, gigantic, monolithic product,” Shepherd said. It’s to serve as a platform, upon which user can add on AnyRole apps (apps suitable for individual roles). “We really like this Apple analogy — there’s an app for that,” he explained.

AnyRole, AnyMode, AnyData, AnyBOM
Neither PTC’s parametric powerhouse Pro/E nor its direct modeler CoCreate will serve as the native format for Creo. Creo will use a new patent-pending data model as its native format, allowing parametric and direct geometry to be exchanged. Creo will allow what PTC calls AnyMode modeling, to accommodate both parametric and direct modeling methods. Creo is expected to support both Pro/E and CoCreate models as customers gradually migrate to the new apps.

The user interface for Creo will look like neither Pro/E nor CoCreate, explained Shepherd. In fact, Creo’s interface may look different from user to user, based on the role he or she has chosen. Accordingly, available Creo apps will vary in price, ranging from premium pricing to free, based on its complexity or simplicity. Available apps will include dedicated 2D modeling, subdivision modeling, rendering, numeric controlled machining, simulation, visualization and markup, among others.

Whereas Pro/E’s emphasis, as with any parametric modeler, is on the recipe for the model (the historical steps required to generate the model), Creo’s emphasis is on geometry. Parametric or feature-based modeling will still be available, but it’ll be a means to an end, not the primary focus of the software. The demonstration shows Creo Elements/Pro users and Creo Elements/Direct users easily exchanging and modifying models created in each other’s programs.

One area that PTC felt has always been neglected is assembly management, or (to be more precise) configuration management. With Creo, you’ll be able to record, chart out, and manage different product configurations in a flowchart-like interface. PTC also plans to let Creo users interact with different geometry created in other programs by converting them to a Creo-adoptable format.

App Developers Wanted
To foster a large Creo ecosystem, PTC plans to offer its development partners access to Creo’s common data model and app templates, allowing them to develop and offer Creo-like apps targeted at specific industries and markets beyond PTC’s core expertise. It’s not yet clear how PTC plans to distribute these applications or how much they’ll be licensed for.

With Creo’s approach, Heppelmann is confident, “We will not lose an ease-of-use battle for some time now … Power users get power; casual users get simplicity.”

PTC’s Creo product suite is a major shakeup for the company itself. For the past two decades, PTC has been a fervent champion of parametric modeling, or history-based modeling. The company is, in fact, credited with being a parametric pioneer. But its acquisition of CoCreate, a direct modeling CAD software, opened its eyes to new possibilities, admitted Heppelmann.

The smaller Apple-style apps are expected to appeal to a new generation of software users who come to rely on iPhone and iPad as their primary communication and collaboration devices. The  breakup of a parametric program into smaller apps may also reduce the learning curve, one of the major barriers for 3D CAD adoption.

As newcomers like SpaceClaim grabs market share, as established vendors like Autodesk and Siemens PLM begin nurturing their own direct modeling products, traditional history-based modelers like Pro/E face immense pressure to evolve. For PTC, a company deeply rooted in parametric modeling with 25,000 customers, shifting gear is no easy task. So there’s a lot riding on Creo. But there’s also a lot to gain, since Creo could put PTC on the radar of many small and mid-size businesses that view Pro/E as an overly complex solution to relatively straightforward design problems.

PTC’s dedicated site: http://creo/

Managing editor Jamie Gooch’s report on the launch event: PTC Reveals Project Lightning as Creo

For more, check out the photo album below from the launch event.

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Help us Celebrate DE’s 15th Anniversary

1995: It was the year immediately following the debut of Netscape, transforming web surfing into a whole new experience. It also marked the launch of DVD as new media; the birth of Yahoo! and eBay; and the passing of The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. If you’re a sci-fi movie buff, you might remember that, in the fictional time line of James Cameron’s Terminator movies, it was the year Skynet sent the robot assassin T-1000 to kill the human resistance leader John Connor.

At the time, Pro/ENGINEER was in Release 15, Siemens PLM Software was still known as UGS, SolidWorks was getting ready to ship its first release, and the memorable AutoCAD R14 was still two years away.

At the end of August, just as Windows 95 (codenamed Chicago) hit the store shelves, the premiere issue of Desktop Engineering (DE) went off to press. Cover lines for Volume 1, Issue 1 read:

  • Your Changing Desktop: Micros have forever changed engineering, but the big changes have just begun.
  • Build a Virtual Oscilloscope with Labwindows/CVI 3.1
  • Designing Whitewater Rafts using CadKey

This year, DE turns 15. We’re planning to take a look back as we forge ahead. Please help us celebrate by telling us what you remember about the past 15 years. Help us decide what to highlight in the anniversary issue by taking a survey about technology milestones here.

I’m also curious to know what you think the headlines might be in the next 15 years. What stories and product reviews do you think DE will be featuring on its cover in the Christmas 2025 issue? With our art director’s help, perhaps we’ll create a digital mockup of that cover.

Share your memories by either leaving comments here or by participating in the DE Anniversary Discussion at DE Exchange. If you dare, you may also upload images, either of yourself or of your CAD design circa 1995.

So do you remember where you were in 1995?

PTC User World Event 2010: Social Enablers, Techpub Composers, and Subdivisional Modelers

What would a family of social media-inspired applets developed to run behind an enterprise firewall look like? It might look like PTC’s Windchill SocialLink, unveiled at PTC User World this year.

Running on Microsoft SharePoint, PTC’s Windchill SocialLink allows you to deploy functions similar to Twitter, Facebook, and Blogger. Robin Siatz, PTC’s senior VP of solutions marketing, explained, “There’s agreement in strategy across the company [PTC] that social product development services should be available to the whole product development system.”

Socialized Product Development
Last year, PTC launched a new product called Windchill ProductPoint, also based on Microsoft SharePoint. Whereas ProductPoint is meant as a product data vault, visualization, markup, and collaboration platform, SocialLink lets you tag content (as you would your photos in Flickr), communicate with colleagues and partners in short text blurbs (as you do on Twitter), find potential collaborators within your firm (as you might identify new friends on Facebook), and receive RSS feeds about your SocialLink associates’ activities.

SocialLink is a standalone package, but to derive its benefits fully, it should be deployed alongside other products like Windchill PDMLink, Siatz explained. Some SocialLink services (as these components are called) may appear as a toolbar in select PTC products, allowing you to engage with colleagues while you work.

“What’s missing in most companies is a sense of community, a shared birds-of-a-feather experience,” noted Brian Shepherd, PTC’s executive VP of product development. “SocialLink will allow these communities to form and flourish, allowing you to capture their collective wisdom.”

PTC plans to roll out SocialLink later this year. PTC’s PLM (product lifecycle management) rival Dassault Systemes is currently developing a similar enterprise-focused social-media platform, dubbed 3dswymer (in closed beta).

Service Manuals via Arbortext
Ever since it acquired document-composer Arbortext in 2007, PTC has been looking for ways to market its XML-based dynamic text formatting and publishing technology to PLM users. This year, PTC may have found the best approach — as a package for producing service manual and technical content.

The core component of this approach is the Arbortext Illustrator application, which lets you create animations and technical drawings. This will become part of PTC’s Arbortext service information solutions. The linkage between Windchill PDMLink and Arbortext ensures that when the source data (the original Pro/ENGINEER model) is modified, service publication managers receive alerts to update the technical content.

PTC’s rival Autodesk recently released a similar application, known as Autodesk Inventor Publisher. Another competitor, Dassault Systemes, also offers its own version, called 3DVIA Composer.

Subdividing Surfaces
Though Pro/ENGINEER is primarily a parametric modeler catering mechanical engineers, those who must create free-form shapes and surfaces can employ the ISDX (interactive surface design extension) module to sculpt complex solids and surfaces. In Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 6.0, a new subdivisional modeling module is set to become available.

Paul Sager, PTC’s director of product management for surfacing and industrial design, explained, “Subdivisional modeling is primarily used in animation, for sculpting faces. It exists in products like [Autodesk's] 3ds Max or Maya.”

With the new module, by subdividing the control mesh (think of it as a wirecage enveloping your 3D model), you can drag, pinch, push, and pull on specific points to deform your model’s geometry. “What it creates is high-quality B-Spline surfaces,” said Sager. “It’s not going to be available till next year.”

The module is driven by technology developed in-house. Currently, it exists only as early Alpha code.

Recently, PTC debut a new version of CoCreate, the direct modeling package it acquired in 2007. Version 17 marks CoCreate’s reemergence under PTC’s guidance.  At the same time, some of CoCreate’s modeling techniques may be finding their ways into PTC’s core parametric package Pro/ENGINEER.

CoCreate’s Copilot navigation tool (a compass-like directional icon that allows you to rotate, push, or pull edges and surfaces along axises and angles) is now poised to appear in Pro/E. The function is currently in the hands of beta testers, according to Sandy Joung, PTC’s director of product marketing for Pro/E and Mathcad.

For more, read “PTC User World 2010: Lightning to Reinvigorate CAD and PLM.”

To see captions of photos in the slide show below, hover your mouse over the image and click on the “i” icon.

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