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SAA's Robotics Program Paves Way for the Future of City Shaping 

Update March 8, 2020: While the RoBuccaneers did not advance to regionals this year, they did win an award for mechanical robot design. Read the background story of how the City's Transportation & Capital Improvements (TCI) department provided a hands-on lesson for the Team as part of their design research process.  

Over the course of the program's inception, the RoBuccaneers have won the regional FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Robotics competition twice, and hoping to take home a third win this year with hard work and a creative solution for a common city problem. This year's FLL's theme, ‘City Shaper’, challenges teams across the nation to determine a problem with a building or public space and propose an innovative solution. For their project, the RoBuccaneers engineered a LEGO prototype they named, "Road Salvation Army," to solve the problem of potholes, their goal statement is:

"Our problem is potholes. Our solution to the problem is a robot that fills potholes, housed inside a space about the size of a box truck. Two workers will maneuver the robot. One will drive it to the location, and the other will  place barriers  around the spot and will supervise the robot. The robot will be positioned over the pothole using hydraulic lifts. The dimensions of the pothole will be scanned by a laser on the robot so it can then cut a square to fill it up to an exact size. Then, a vacuum inside the robot will suck up the debris. After that, our patch aggregate (Axion STRUXURE®-80% post consumer plastic and 20% recycled car bumpers and dashboards-mixed with bitumen) is dispensed from heated vats inside the robot. This plastic mixture has been used for 13 years since 2006. Next. the robot will cool the aggregate with a fan. The workers will then put away the barriers, retract the hydraulic lifts, and then the truck will drive away."

To take their engineering efforts to the next level before the March competition, the RoBuccaneers got an opportunity to witness first hand a real crew at work filling a pothole in SAA's neighborhood. With the help of San Antonio's Sr. Public Information Officer, Joe Conger, the boys, along with their coaches Cathy Baumgardner and Tyna Powers, met a pothole repair crew from the City's Transportation & Capital Improvements Department (TCI). TCI’s crew chief, Xavier Gonzales, and his crew, Valentino Garcia, Albert Diaz, Steven Salazar, and Jenny DeLeon, explained and then demonstrated the entire process. 

Comparing a lego robot prototype to the pothole machine

After watching the pothole get jack-hammered into a clean square, boys observed and analyzed how the crew filled it with molten asphalt, making note of the differences between the machine and their prototype. Rather than using asphalt, the RoBuccaneer's goal is to use 80 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, a more eco-friendly material. After the demonstration and several questions the crew help to answer, the Team realized they'd have to make a few adjustments to their robot, such as re-configuring the hopper that holds the content, and potentially including a roller, before the March 7th regional competition. 

If they win at regionals, they, along with the other winning competitors from San Antonio, will enter a coin toss to determine which team will advance to the international finals held in Houston. Thanks in large part to TCI's help,  the RoBuccaneers have increased those odds to make that happen. We are proud of our young engineers as they pave their way to the future of city shaping. 

robotics team with city workers
Read the San Antonio Express-News article about the project, here.
Watch TCI's official video posted on their social media site, here.
Watch SAA's behind-the-scenes footage documenting this hands-on lesson with the TCI crew, below: