New Age Dragon Boat Duel: The Hidden Living Technology Class Inside the Dragon Boat Robot

Can you imagine a dragon boat race without any human oarsman, is that even possible? Besides the traditional boat racing, there are also competitive and flashy Dragon Boat Robots in 2016. These water gadgets are not made by tech experts, instead, they come from the “Living Technology” classes in schools.

Does the name of the class seem familiar to you? To learn more about the “secret” of this class, we interviewed two living technology teachers, and they are Mr. Dingqin Su(蘇鼎欽) of New Taipei Municipal An Kang High School, and Mr. Yuzhong Wang(王裕中) of National Nanke International Experimental High School. Let us focus on the “Living Technology” part of “Science and Living Technology,” and have a good look at the combination of a dragon boat and a robot!

What comes to your mind when you hear “dragon boat robot?”

Not just a race, it’s also about cleaning the pool

“How did it end up looking like this?” was the reaction of Mr. Su(蘇鼎欽) of the Living Technology class in An Kang High School when he first saw his dragon boat robot. “You have to do it yourself to realize how difficult it is.” Once he dived into the project, situations began to show up one after another. “Is there any other way to balance the boat besides attaching bottles to its sides?” “Why can’t make a boat out of acrylic?” While acrylic seems like a really heavy material, Mr. Su managed to bypass the laser cutter’s operation limit of 50 cm, and extend the length of the boat to 90 cm, and make the hull shallower. Not only did the acrylic boat float on water just fine, through digital processing and the aid of software, the number of errors produced throughout the process was greatly reduced.

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The laser cutter has an operation limit of 50 cm, so the two boats need to be glued together.

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A waterproof protrusion at the joint of the two boats.

“Making a boat is not difficult, the skill to carry it out is.” There is a thermoplastic protrusion in the middle of the hull that prevents leakage. The two sides of the boat are not attached to its front and back by mortise and tenon, instead the entire boat is made unibody to reduce errors during the process to a minimum. There are 3 sets of quadruple servomotors, acrylic stands, Arduinos and 3D-printed “Anpanman robots.” You can control the acrylic oars in their hands and the rudder at the stern of the boat. “Besides racing, they can pick up garbage as well.” As long as the detachable fishing net is equipped, these boats can help clean up campus pools whether it’s Dragon Boat Festival or not.

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The rudder that needs to stay competitive

The boat might be finished, but the challenge has just begun. How are you going to keep balance on water? After many tries, they found out the key is that the robot has to “keep it low, and keep it light” while rowing, and not blindly pressing the boat down. Besides fine-tuning the positions of the battery box and the chips to achieve static balance, the positions of the robots have to be fine-tuned individually as well in order to find the perfect dynamic balance.

Dressing up your boat, with 3D printing

Unlike the competitive An Kang High School, the National Nanke International Experimental High School goes for looks.

“Finding the right material is the most difficult.” Said Mr. Wang(王裕中) of NNKIEH. To be environmentally friendly, they used an old cushion that feels like styrofoam as the hull. Not only is it light enough to float on water, this material also stands out from other teams. They then slowly carved out the dragon’s head, tail and wings with hand-held tools, painted it and the entire dragon boat robot was finished. In order to help the students learn to control the step motor with a smartphone, each set of motor is marked with a corresponding number, and then tested in the after-school swimming pool. Because the boat is handcrafted, it is likely to tilt while in motion, so Mr. Wang decided to accurately make a balanced boat with 3D printing.

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The flashy award-winning dragon boat robot.

“Students are interested in the robot, not the dragon boat.” When asked how to make his students interested in this topic, Mr. Wang laughed and said, “Strandbeast is an interesting idea as well.” To these elementary students, Scratch is an excellent software for programming education. The modular teaching allows students to easily “put together” the programs they need even when they can’t “write” a program. If you think the results they put out are all similar to one another you might have underestimated their creativity a bit too much! “The children all managed to make creative things.” Mr. Wang said that once these elementary students understood what each command does, they became “super open.”

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Students are inspired to create by a simple set of program and motor.

The “Disadvantaged” Maker Education, the Living Technology Class

To Mr. Su(蘇鼎欽), the living technology class equals maker education, and every school should have it. “How to teach is the problem.” Most living technology teachers aren’t provided with dedicated classrooms, they can only teach in their original classrooms or computer labs. Though the latter might be fine for teaching 3D modeling and digital media production, the materials required for teaching are still limited by a great deal. These classrooms get especially dirty and untidy when handicraft is involved, and thus are extremely unsuitable.

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Various educational tools are placed in the back of the current living technology classroom at An Kang High School

It seems that maker education is supported by the endless amount of maker space and equipment in campus, but what about the predecessor of maker education, the living technology class? “I need results to exchange for my classroom.” Mr. Su said that his passion for maker contests started when he was in junior high school. “It’s science and living technology, but people seem to focus on science the school subject, instead of the living technology.” He believes that participating in contests is a way for disadvantaged subjects to thrive. Being in a contest not only means exposure for the living technology class, Mr. Su also wishes to win in these contests so that his school gets the exposure as well. As for the current maker space in the campus, he thinks that having open resources is important, and hopes his students get access to these resources. Mr. Su also hopes that different classes and professions can interact with each other more often, and complement each other.

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The laser cutter and the wall tool holder with not too many tools.

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The grinder

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The straight heater, for bending acrylic.

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The sandblaster

“Maker is but a name, the classes have always been there.” Teachers play an important role in maker education, and each living technology teacher has his own profession. Maker education should start early, or students might have a hard time “keeping up.” If it’s time for them to start making something, and they don’t even know 3D modelling, promoting maker education would be extremely difficult. As for where exactly living technology and maker education intersect, Mr. Su answered, “Just keep implementing the course.”

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Winners of the 9th High School Living Technology Contest, students Yichun Qiu(邱翌淳), Peiyu Lai(賴沛瑜) and teacher Mr. Dingqing Su(蘇鼎欽) of An Kang High School.

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