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Line-Sensing Robot, 11th grade science project

Johnny Jones, April 1990

It always happens: Bryan has great ideas for science projects, and works hard on them. But he designs his projects for maximum Mother agony. In other words, no matter how far in advance he starts, no matter how hard he works, his projects are never done until the last minute.

 This year Bryan started working on the project November 25. He decided to build a robot that could follow a line to use for carrying supplies and people in hospitals. After the parts arrived, Bryan started building. I couldn't believe how complicated even the "small" circuits were. One minuscule wire in the wrong place - and nothing worked! Then it was back to test equipment, the schematics, and dogged determination to find the problem and fix it. I remember praying, "Lord, help Bryan find the problem and be able to fix it."

 Bryan was using some schematics (diagrams of circuits) from a book I'd ordered for him. After spending over eight hours building the tone generator from schematics in this book, Bryan couldn't get it to work. After doing the diagnostics he knew how to do, he was stuck.
 Dale Thomas,  looked at the board and gave him some tips on handling his CMOS chips. Then Rick Henderson from Salem checked the tone generator wire by wire - and came to the conclusion that there was something wrong with the schematics.

 What now? Out of sheer desperation I prayed and then called UMR's electrical engineering department and asked if there was someone who could help. Professor Norman Cox said he would try.

 He did - wonderfully. The tone generator and tone decoder schematics were erroneous, so Professor Cox, after some research, found the problems with the schematics. Now Bryan was back on track.

 Bryan was also working on other aspects of his project. He was going to use the remote-control tank that had been the basis of his eighth-grade project. But when it came time to test it, the tank would not work! "No problem," I thought. "If necessary, we'll just buy a new one." Bryan had already invested hundreds of hours, and time was running short.

 But when we got the Radio Shack, we found tanks are only sold in the fall. Furthermore, sending it off for Radio Shack's repair shop would take a week - and they would take off the computer controller Bryan had spent hours soldering on.

 After exhausting other alternatives (and praying), we went to Huck Finn's Fix-It Shop. Sure enough, Mr. Finn said he'd take a shot at it. What's more, he was enthusiastic and encouraging about the project. In the meantime, Bryan was mounting the parts for the computer control, and writing out posters for his display.

 I made trips to Rolla (an hour away) for parts like capacitors, potentiometers, and transistors, and allowed Bryan to use four rooms in our house as work stations. So I felt I had a right to ask, "Is it working yet?" But Bryan kept answering, "Pretty much." The tone generator worked, the tone decoder worked, the computer interface worked, the tank worked - but not the line sensor. And unless everything works, the tank wouldn't do what it should.

 Now, that was OK - except that now it was 7:45 p.m. Monday April 2nd, and we needed to leave for Cape Girardeau early Tuesday morning. I had already made several trips that evening looking for last-minute parts. Now Bryan said he needed some 9-volt batteries. By the time I got to town, I found Stanley's (the grocery store) closed. Casey's Mini-Market didn't have 9-volts. But our friends the Roscoes did.

 About 10 Chip said, "Why don't we go on to bed? Even if it doesn't work, you can demonstrate your engineering." But Bryan refused. "I can do it, Dad," he quietly insisted. And Chip stayed up to read numbers off test instruments for him.

 I finally went to bed about 11:30. But I couldn't sleep. I got up again at 12:30 and decided to put posters on the display boards. Except for "Conclusions." Bryan didn't yet know what the conclusions were!

 I got the "Conclusions" poster typed by 2, and went to bed.

 At 6 we were up again getting dressed to leave for Cape. Bryan said, "I can do some more programming after I get it set up." By the time Bryan went to bed, the tank would follow a straight line, but couldn't handle curves. After some time on the computer, Bryan made a curved line with electrician's tape on several pages of white typing paper. The tank followed it for the first set of judges. So he felt pretty good about it. I felt exhausted.

 I was still tired at the Awards ceremony Thursday night. I knew Bryan had a blue ribbon for engineering - but so did another student. And many of the winning projects had titles like "A Study of the Inhibition of Quinone Formation by the Enzyme Polyphenoloxidase in the Solarnum Tubersum", (the other overall winner) which was about getting potatoes not to turn black after they were cut, and were three-year efforts. Bryan's project was different, so I didn't think he had much chance to win.

 I tried hard to remember what Chip kept telling the kids - "Do it for the learning." And Bryan had agreed it was worth the effort, even before he got a blue ribbon.

 But what a pleasure when Bryan's name was announced as one of two overall winners! I don't know how his project will fare at International, but Bryan's was possibly the world's most prayed-over science project. It made me happy to think, "Prayer works. Persistence pays." Thank you, Lord.