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Project Research and the Psychology of Presentation

In the morning judging, the area we were weakest in was Project Research.  Specifically, we could do better in:

(1) Identifying the Problem (3/4)

(2) Analyzing the Problem (3/4)

(3) Reviewing Existing Solutions (2/4)

Problem Identification and Analysis are partly due to the incompatibility between the indirect skit format we used and the information-dense complex nature of our Project.

For the Problem Identification, we didn’t frame the problem as well as we could have. Like writing a good book, our presentation should immediately grab the judges and emotionally move them.  After our first 15-20 seconds the Judges should be vigorously nodding their heads in agreement about how bad the problem is that we’ve identified.

We need to give them an emotional punch to the gut straight off the bat.  Here is are two good video that discusses the art of presentations and the psychology of persuasion and illustrates how people are govern by emotions over reason supported by many studies.

The first video gives a good example of explaining and presenting the hook at the beginning of a presentation (ignore 2nd half infomercial).

For Problem Analysis, we need to clearly identify the current problem and current inadequate solutions and where they fall short.  The word “analysis” tips off that they want us to support everything we argue for with hard facts, logical decomposition of the problem, solid research and quantifiable outcomes.


To Review Existing Solutions, we couldn’t go wrong following the best practices of the analyst industry in creating competitive matrices of current solutions in a 2D charts with axis that best characterize our goals and styles like those shown below.  Just as we are emotional his type of information is conveyed particularly well using infographics.



Innovation, Intellectual Property and Patent Criteria


As of Sept 2013, the Apple brand was valuated at $100 Billion.  That’s not physical assets like cash in the bank, inventory, factories, or real estate.  This is not even the intellectual property represented by their extensive portfolio of utility and design patents.  This $100 Billion valuation is the Intellectual Property directly associated with the Apple name, logo and associated goodwill they have accrued since the founding of Apple Corp in 1976.

Today AAPL is the most valuable company in the world.  Clearly, intellectual properties and great ideas are worth a tremendous amount of money – so much so they’ve spawned an entire economy of patent trolls.


Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST, was first and foremost an inventor.  His inventions helped a lot of people.  By patenting his inventions Dean was able to protect his Intellectual Property and create economically successful products and companies around his technical creativity.  In fact, one of Dean’s early career moves was to establish his own research lab DEKA with 400 engineers to focus on creating and developing great new ideas (c.f. blog post on Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Labs).

FLL reflect Dean’s interest in creative technical solutions that help mankind.  That is why the FLL Research Project exists – it’s a technical startup in miniature with everything from market research to implementation factors.  It’s also why 1/3 of the Product Judging Rubric is around Innovation (Team Solution, Innovation, Implementation).


We were dinged on the innovation for our project.  One way to understand why is to examine how inventors like Dean (and FLL) view innovation.  Fortunately, we have a very clear gold standard in how to define “Innovation” using the World and the US Patent and Trademark Offices criteria to grant patents to inventors like Dean.  To start, we need to what a patent is (from wikipedia):

A patent … is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention. An invention is a solution to a specific technological problem and is a product or a process.[1]:17 Patents are a form of intellectual property.

…a granted patent application must include one or more claims that define the invention. A patent may include many claims, each of which defines a specific property right. These claims must meet relevant patentability requirements, such as novelty and non-obviousness. The exclusive right granted to a patentee in most countries is the right to prevent others, or at least to try to prevent others, from commercially making, using, selling, importing, or distributing a patented invention without permission.

So Patent Offices use the term patentability to define Innovation.  For your invention to be granted a patent (e.g. be considered Innovative) it must meet the following criteria:


If we had tried to file a patent on our implementation of Aurasma technology to teach local history, a patent examiner would most likely have rejected the patent based upon both the Unobviousness and Novelty factors above (we would pass the Utility and Statutory Class hurdles).

That is, someone skilled in the arts of Aurasma, augmented reality, and geo-tagging would not look at our Project and say our implementation is completely novel and beyond their ability to foresee such a use of existing technology.  For this reason, we can’t focus solely on the technology, Aurasma and walking-tour components of our Project which are well-known practices and established technologies to boost our innovation and overall Project score.

Instead, we need to emphasize both the Utility of our Project (how we are or will impact our community in real quantitative terms) as well as augment the Unobviousness and Novelty of our Project.

The best way to do both would be to enhance our project by adding on the social component to our local history that brings history alive.  This is the idea we discussed at the very beginning of the FLL season, but didn’t have time to address.

By adding oral history content by local seniors who have a wealth stories that tie local landmarks and items to history events from a local perspective.  As Jim at the Knox Co. Historical Museum showed with his story of kids who struggled with history but were captivated speaking with an actual WWII vet, we can bring history alive by making it real and immediate with our community seniors who lived it.

In addition, our project would not only be an effective tool for teaching history through our community’s perspective, it would serve a wider social good.  For the kids, it could help restore the respect of our seniors that pop media/culture constantly erodes.  When the kids asked the WWII vet what it was like to watch their 18yo buddies die it leaves an indelible mark by making history real, teaches them why our seniors have earned the respect that comes with age and experience and gives them the realization that history is not some abstract far away construct.

As we discussed early on, the elderly in our modern mobile society, social isolation is one of the biggest problems they face which likely correlate to poor health outcomes (research/cite).  By going out into the community and engaging them, getting their personal histories and showing how each lived a valuable thread in the larger story of our local history we connect them with our youth, community and history.  Finally, as our greatest generation that fought WWII passes, we perform a valuable historical purpose by preserving these oral histories before they are lost forever.

A patent is judged based upon a number of specific claims it makes about the invention it describes.  In general, you want you claims to be as broad as possible to prevent a copycat coming along and making a slight change to your invention without legally infringing (but claims that are too broad can be rejected).  In addition, you can list as many claims as you wish.  The more claims you assert, the more narrow you patent project.  However, as claims are additive, more claims make it easier to successfully claim novelty/unobviousness.

For example, our current Project would roughly have the claims:

1) A device to teach local history

2) using augmented reality app Aurasma to stream custom content

3) tagged to physical makers (cats’ meows)

An enhanced Project would have the additional claims:

4) optionally involving a social network

5) to connect history students with seniors (live or prerecorded)

6) based upon common historical interests/experiences

While all the claims (except perhaps #5 & 6) are trivial or prior art, when combined they become Innovative enough to perhaps merit a patent*.  Using only the first 3 claims do not pass the novel/unobviousness criteria as Aurasma technology has 2,000 apps and 20,000 partners in over 100 countries – the most active of which are teachers.

To learn more about patents, here is a great patent blog by Hyperion Law.  Also, for you edification, here is what an actual patent looks like (note the Inventor’s name).  You can search and view countless of published patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) Web Site.

patent_newt* NOTE:  Patents don’t protect your ideas from infringement or theft – they only provide the promise of legal redress if you have enough money and time to track down possible infringements, identify responsible parties, hire lawyers to prepare a legal suit and hope that you can collect even if you do get a favorable judgement.  High level software design or architecture patents like this would make for a very difficult prosecution.

Advantages of the eV3 Education Set vs NXT 2.0:Retail Kit


When I asked about the advantages of the eV3 over the NXT at the FLL coaches’ training, I had heard the NXT is fine at the lower level of tournament play.  However, the instructor admitted that teams with eV3 and the knowledge to exploit all its features often come to dominate at higher levels of competition.

Given all the inexplicable behavior of the sensors that render our current NXT FlopBot blind and deaf on the mat, we’ll have to invest in an eV3 if we hope to advance (this is assuming we don’t see the same problems in the eV3).  As we’ve seen in our tests, we cannot reliably solve missions on the far half of the field with only dead reckoning.  The rules state that you must have one of the top scores on the Robot Challenge Table to advance, no matter how high your other scores are in Core Values, Project or Robot Design.

As a result, I’ve just ordered an eV3 Education Set which is described at the end of this post.  In addition, I’ve ordered an extra medium and large motor since the Education Set only comes with 3 motors (2 Large/1 Medium) but has 4 ports.  The main kit and medium motor should arrive by the end of the week and the large motor about mid-December.

Here are the main advantages of the eV3 over the NXT 2.0 collected from several FLL resources around the web:

(1) Rechargeable batteries provide a more uniform power output curve across all charge levels resulting in more accurate dead reckoning.  Disposable Li Ion batteries also provide a better power curve than alkaline AA batteries, but are much more expensive.

(2) An extra motor port allows us to have 2 independent armatures to solve missions and save time on driving back to base and time retooling mission specific armatures.

(3) A new gyro sensor which gives accurate compass point readings so we don’t have to square up.  This will make it easier to navigate the field by driving in straight lines and precisely aligning to missions that are sensitive to alignment issues like the robot arm.  Precision 3 degrees with 1kHz sampling rate.

(4) Motors and sensors from the NXT are compatible with the eV3 so we can have a powerful main armature and a secondary weaker armature as well as extra sensors.

(5) Faster CPU and better sensors which means:

– Faster CPU 300MHz (vs 48MHz NXT)

– Faster Sensor Ports:  460.8Kbit/s (vs 98Kbit/s NXT)

– Much More Memory:  64MB (vs 0.256MB NXT)

– Larger Screen:  178×128 (vs 100×64 NXT)

– Ultrasonic Sensor:  Precision 1cm (vs 3cm NXT), detects interference and indicator light

– Color Sensor:  Sampling 1,000Hz (vs 330Hz NXT)

(6) eV3 auto-detects which sensors and motors are plugged into which ports.  Makes cabling errors much less likely

(5) Software seems to be better for eV3 than NXT.  More accurate Move steering (number not just estimated arrow), better revision control, more tutorials, advanced data collection & analysis, more reliable?

Here is the description of the Education eV3 Robot Set #5003463 we have on order:

This Robot Set is comprised of the latest LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education technology – EV3, introduced in 2013. Reusable year to year, this extensive offering includes all components needed to build and program a robot capable of completing challenge objectives. Complete with 1,000+ parts and special elements as well as programming software and storage, this is a great set for robotics competition use.

Each FLL EV3 Robot Set contains:

  • LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 Core Set Includes the EV3 Intelligent Brick, a rechargeable DC battery, a battery charger, two large servo motors, one medium servo motors, two touch sensors, one gyro sensor, one color/light sensor, one ultrasonic sensor, and a variety of building elements – especially the new ball wheel.
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS Education Expansion Set Includes a wide range of LEGO Technic elements designed to take the robotics experience to the next level. Included are plenty of special elements such as different gears and tires and hubs, a large turntable, robot personalization parts, unique structural elements, and many extra standard elements.
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 Programming Software The PC- and Mac-compatible graphical programming software has an intuitive, icon-based drag and drop environment for “building” programs need to control the robot. Includes nearly 50 interactive tutorials to help the novice programmer get started. Requires Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 or 8, or Mac 10.6, 10.7., or 10.8.

Congratulations 2nd Place Finish! On to Districts Jan 10th in Dublin.

We had a blast yesterday.  It was a well run tournament with lot of great teams and a fun supportive atmosphere.  Relax and enjoy the fruits of your hard work:  #2 out of a field of 16 is a tremendous accomplishment for a new team with less than 2 months to prepare.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a 44,000 word essay that describes the agony of defeat, the thrill of victory and the great time overall we just had at the Bobcat FLL Tournament (minus the early morning ice storm):


( Project Poster – Teaching Local History via Augmented Reality )

Poster_robot_web( Robot Poster:  The Many Lives of FlopBot )


( The Venue:  Grandview Heights Larry Larson Middle School )


( Our Gracious Hosts and Volunteers : The Grandview Heights Bobcats – Thank You )


( Gambier GIgaFlops Representing )


( Solvi and Makenna put on their Game Day Faces )


( Gambier GigaFlops in the House )


( At the Practice Table for Last Minute Tune-Ups )


( Problems Arise:  Our Robot shouldn’t rip the Door off like HAL 9000 )


( Warm-up Performance are a Source of Concern )


( Rehearsing our Project Skit in the Hallway )


( Makenna and Spencer with our Project Poster )


( Round 1:  Chaos from the Judges Perspective )


( Round 1:  Mt. Vernon St. Vincent’s Brick Busters at the Competition Table )


( Round 1: Getting our Heads in the Game )


( Round 1:  A good crowd in attendance )


( Round 2:  16 teams with 3 runs apiece )


( Round 2:  A well-run Tournament )


( Round 2:  Photobombed by the Bobcats in Waiting Pen, we took a Snap of them )


( Round 2:  Learning about Rules in Setup Time )


( Round 2:  In the Hole with only 40pts in Round 1 and Hoping for a Comeback )


( Round 2:  Robot Pit Stop Teamwork )


( Round 2:  In a game of millimeters, can FlopBot do it? )


( Round 2:  Not this time )


( Round 2:  Another Disappointing Round of 70pts and 9th Place )


( Round 2:  Our Score Calculation Fails to Impress )


( Round 2:  More Action at the Main Table )


 ( Round 2:  Why isn’t FlopBot Working? )


( Round 2:  Flash Mob Break )


( Round 2:  Blowing off Steam Gangham Style )


( Round 2:  Sharing our Project with Team JazzBots and their far out costumes )


( Round 3:  Last Chance to Make Adjustments)


( Round 3:  Grace Under Pressure )


( Round 3:  Desperate Time & Desperate Measures – Makenna pulls out her Lucky Lollipop )


( Round 3: The Table Judge Clarifies a Question on Points )


( Round 3:  FlopBot pulls out a Winning Score of 150pts )


( Round 3:  Confirmation from the Big Board, Gambier GigaFlops #2 )


( Round 3: We’re going to Disneyland! – hopefully )


( Round 3:  Awaiting the final score tally )


( Round 3:  Hoping our Morning Judging Score will be enough to Advance )


 ( Closing Ceremony:  Mt. Vernon St. Vincent advance as well, Well Done Blue Streaks )


( Closing Ceremony :  Gambier GigaFlops 2nd Place Overall )


( Closing Ceremony:  Congrats Gambier GigaFlops )


( Closing Ceremony: Our Invitation to the District Tournament Jan 10th in Dublin, OH )