Mission with the
By R. Gene Turchin
My job at the STEM Innovation
Center at Fairmont State University
is to spark interest in science
technology engineering and math
among local high school students.
One of the interesting programs
that we offer at Fairmont State is a
Science and Engineering Challenge
Day. Local high school students are
offered the chance to sign up for a
one hour hands-on science and
engineering project-based activity.
The objective is to make it really
interesting with a bit of a challenge.
It challenges the faculty as well,
because we try to outdo each other
in creativity and coolness.
The STEM Innovation Center had recently purchased a
half dozen GEARS-IDS platforms. These “Invention Design
Systems”, are like heavy-duty erector sets on steroids. It is
composed of ruggedly built industrial level components.
The system can be used with a Parallax BASIC Stamp or
any other similar microcontroller such as the Arduino or
We only had a few short weeks to create a project,
build the devices, and test it out on the challenge problem.
We try to make the project extremely interactive to
generate enthusiasm among the students. The goal of this
particular challenge was to remotely control a robot in a
hostile environment to recover a lost probe and carry it
back to the main base.
The GEARS-IDS system arrived in three separate boxes:
the Laser 4 remote control, the basic drive platform, and a
large toolbox containing the erector set-like parts and some
pneumatic devices. The Laser 4 remote control ships with a
four-channel standard joystick controller, an eight-channel
receiver, and two Hi Tec HS-322 heavy duty servos.
I had some experience and familiarity with the Vex
Robotics System, the LEGO NXT, and the older RCX
Our total cost for the project was approximately $1,500
per unit. We selected the GEARS-IDS platform because
of the lower cost and it specifies that it is designed for
54 SERVO 12.2009