Parallax Insider News

Meet Clayton: Aspiring Rocket Engineer Inspired by Boe-Bots

  • By: Parallax Insider Published: 22 May, 2019 0 comments

The following transcript is compiled from multiple email interviews between Clayton C. (CC), a high school student in Nebraska and Parallax enthusiast since 2013, and Hannah Shows (HS), the Marketing and Events intern at Parallax Inc. The questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity, concision, and flow.

HS: Hey Clayton, thanks for agreeing to an interview. I look forward to learning all the ways you’ve used Parallax products to equip your robotic genius. To kick off, tell me a little about yourself.

CC: My name is Clayton. I’m a 10th grader at Weeping Water Public in Nebraska. My favorite class would be robotics. This is due to the challenge it provides and the fun I have building the machines. My biggest hobby is robotics, simply because I love the freedom and power of Parallax products. After high school, I want to design and sell electronics products. My career paths include explorational rocketry, aircraft design for the Air Force, software engineering, that sort of thing.

HS: In your forum post, you described learning robotics using a Boe-Bot borrowed from your 4th grade teacher. In those early summers when you were experimenting with Mrs. Golden's Boe-Bot, what were some of your notable 'lessons learned'? What resources did you use to construct, program, and troubleshoot the Boe-Bot?

CC: For the first few summers, I could not do anything but take the bot apart and build it again. Then, the summer Mrs. Golden moved schools and told me to keep the bot, my grandma passed down a better laptop, after which I purchased an even better one. The laptop my grandma gave me could run the Parallax Stamp IDE and an early version of StampPlot Lite. These programs, along with some LEDs were my only troubleshooting options. My experience building it came from the “Robotics with the Boe-Bot” book.

The first lesson I learned was that the Board of Education is quite durable. The breadboard glue—not as much. The first night home with the Boe-Bot, I dropped the assembled bot on the tile. The only damage was that the breadboard fell off! The second lesson was that an HP mini laptop was not enough to run the Stamp IDE.

HS: In your forum post, you mentioned that you were drawn to the Boe-Bot Kit as you could "look at the PCB while you put it together." Why was that important to you?

CC: I have always had a love for being able to take things apart and see how they work. The exposed circuitry makes me feel like I am truly in the guts of the machine. I miss this feeling with my school’s VEX kits, which use touchpad “cortexes”. I really don’t feel like I am actually programming with these. I feel that I am simply telling it there are motors and a joystick. I also feel like VEX is cheating students of the actual robotics experience with their products, since everything is a secret as to how it works.

HS: As you’ve grown with robotics, who (or what) has encouraged, mentored, or inspired you along your robotic/coding journey?

CC: The biggest mentor in my robotics life is Chip Gracey. If it weren’t for Chip, I would never have seen anything from Parallax. His work with the Propellers has been a beacon of admiration for me. Also, Chris, who worked in tech support, is a role model. I found his Stamp PDB on EBay. My mom emailed him about it and told him who I was and why we were buying it. 

HS: What projects are you currently working on, Clayton?

CC: I am currently designing a 3D model boat with a twin hull, which will be paddle wheel driven by Parallax continuous rotation servos. It will have Boe-Bot type steering (i.e pivot by reversing one paddle wheel). I have slots for 5v lasers pointing 5° downward. This whole thing will be a whopping 20 inches in length—long enough that I must print the hull in two separate pieces! I hope to use XBees or the Key Fob Remote and Receiver PCB to communicate.

Also in design is a Propeller Modular Computer. This beast will have removable CPU cards, all P1 based, plus a VGA port and a couple of USB ports, possibly the capacity to host a USB drive (maybe), and a custom header design to stack the CPU cards! It even has its own discussion on the forums! Though, I got bored again and started developing a small computer processor, an 8-bit deal with 8 commands.

HS: Those are great projects! What Parallax products do you use?

CC: For my Parallax collection, I have a Board of Education, BS2 and Propeller versions, plus a Propeller Project Board. I have a bunch of servos, two Boe-Bot chassis and my golden piece: Chris' BASIC Stamp PDB!

HS: Thanks for sharing your stories, Clayton. You’re showing a path for other budding roboticists, programmers and innovators! Last question: What advice would you share with a newcomer to robotics who feels intimidated by the amount of knowledge/skills necessary to succeed in the field?

CC: Anyone who’s fearful, start with a Stamp. Stepping stones.

About Clayton
Clayton is a rising sophomore at K-12 Weeping Water Public School in Nebraska. With a knack for computers, programming, and robotics, he enjoys learning Spin and designing PCBs for the Propeller. In 2017, he won 11th place out of 1,350 applicants at the RoboRave competition in Alburquerque.