Day Three

We started out our third day in Kyoto with a couple hours of free time. We went to a few shops in Kyoto Station to pick up fans, chopsticks, incense, and anything else our previous day of cultural learning may have inspired us to buy.

From there, we walked to a subway station, experiencing one of the many ways Japan has made its cities more efficient: diagonal sidewalks.

From the subway we walked to our first scheduled event of the day: samurai lessons. We split into groups, and Ryu, our teacher, patiently instructed us not to attack the floor, as typically your enemies won’t be laying down. We stumbled through his instructions of the different strikes and learned the difference between a Katana and a broadsword (a katana has a one-sided blade while a broadsword is a double-edged sword).

The samurai were second highest in the social pyramid from roughly 1185 until 1868, directly under the Shogun. While there was an emperor during this period, it was mostly a ceremonial position and the Shogun were the actual rulers of Japan. The samurai were the military power who pledged loyalty to Shogun. We learned how to walk both with the dignity and distinction of a samurai and silently and quickly as they would during battle. Well, we were taught very well, but the amount of dignity we had and the amount of noise we made was probably not acceptable for the samurai.

Halfway through the lesson we changed into traditional kimonos, and we have never looked cooler. Ryu knew exactly what we were thinking, and he gave us a ten minute picture break. I’ve done my best to compile the photos, but if you are looking for a full catalogue it is probably best to check out everyone’s respective social medias.

The big finale of the lesson was a choreographed skit which showed off all the different moves we learned.

From our samurai lessons we went to Nishiki Market. There we shopped around more at local shops and found amazing restaurants. We found a few more shrines around, which showed how integral the shinto religion is in Japanese life and culture. Imagine walking through the Mall of America and suddenly, in between The Gap and a Cinnabon, there was a church, ornately decorated like a cathedral. Several people were praying in both shrines we visited.

About halfway through our time in the market we started to see men dressed in white chanting and clapping parading through the halls. We asked one of the men and learned it was part of the Kyoto Gion Matsuri.

It continues throughout all of July, but there is a huge parade on July 17th. This festival started in 869 in hopes of pleasing the gods during an epidemic. A local boy is chosen as a divine messenger, and he is not supposed to touch the ground from the 13th to the 17th. We believe this smaller parade was a more local ceremony, but we did see a boy we think was the divine messenger.

Finally, we made our way back to Kyoto Station and took the bullet train to Nagoya. Tomorrow we start work on the RoboCup, so check back for more updates. Follow our twitter here and like our Facebook page here for more updates.

Day Two

The second day showed the whole RoboCup team a look into the Japanese culture, and, speaking on behalf of everyone I talked to, it’s unlike anything we’ve experienced before. We started the day with a 30 minute bullet train ride from Nagoya to Kyoto, going roughly 200 miles per hour. That in and of itself mesmerized the whole group. Check out a time lapse of the whole ride on our twitter.

After quickly stopping at our hotel, we headed back to Kyoto Station to meet with our guides for the first activity of the day: a bike tour. We split into two groups, so I can only speak for half of us as to what all we did. However, it was a long and hot ride, but the heat was made up for by both the wind and the information. Over the course of the tour we learned a lot about the religions here in Japan. Our first stop was the 1st shrine built in Kyoto after the capital had moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It was a shrine of prosperity. Before we could enter we needed to purify ourselves with water outside of the shrine.

We then learned how to pray at the shrines: toss a 5 yen coin into the receptacle, bow twice, clap twice, and bow once more. The shrines are from the Shinto religion, the Japanese religion that originated before Buddhism came over from China. These shrines are meant to focus on life: past life, present life, and future life.

We moved on from that shrine to a Buddhist temple, which focuses on the afterlife. We saw two such temples and learned they were both from a sect of Buddhism called Zen Buddhism. The different sects of Buddhism used to have an extreme amount of infighting, so these temples had each been burned down numerous times. Luckily, the violence stopped for the most part after around the 1500s, so the temples are still quite old.

After the temples we went to another shrine, this time one for beauty. We all spent a good few yen praying at that one. At this point we were all pretty hot so we stopped for slushie-like drinks at that shrine which was meant to make us more beautiful. The flavor was that of a fruit that was like a cross between an apple and a pear.

We biked from there up to the philosopher’s trail, where a prolific philosopher strolled through the forest to think. It is rumored that David Bowie used to live in a house near this trail. Then we went to the truth forest and saw what used to be a holy site.

All in all we biked upwards of 11 miles during the first half of the day.

We took a quick break for lunch, we all went for ramen. Then we got right back up and started on our walking tour. We combined our groups and started off going to a third temple where we saw a depiction of Canon, the goddess of mercy.

We then went to one final shrine, for business. It is famous for its over 1000 gates, each purchased by different companies. Disneyland and Universal Studios both have gates here. These gates need to be renewed, as they are wood, but the Kyoto prefectures gate was in stone and is permanent.

Finally, we went to the Geisha district. The Geishas are entertainers who stretch back for centuries. They start to train once they are 15, become Geishas once they are 20 or 21, and typically retire by the time they are 27. From there Geishas typically marry or become “mothers” (trainers) for aspiring Geishas. Geishas put on tea ceremonies. If you want to attend you need to be invited by a Geisha or referred by someone who is a regular or your hotel. They tea ceremonies are extremely expensive and you typically can only go to them if you go almost every day.

Thank you so much to our wonderful guide for both the walking tour and one group of the biking tour, Lulu. She catered the tour to our interests and did a wonderful job showing us the city. Okini, Lulu.

Day One

The whole team and the robot made it safely into Nagoya. Immediately as we exited customs, a Japanese media company came to interview us about the RoboCup. Stephanie Roberts stepped up to answer their questions about what the competition entails, whether or not we would win, and what our team name was. Unfortunately she blanked on the last question momentarily: “I was really stressed and nervous and forgot our team name for a second,” Stephanie said.

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After a long day of traveling we stayed near our hotel for a nice dinner in Nagoya. We had a relaxed night because early tomorrow morning we embark on our day trip to Kyoto, via bullet train. Look out for a longer update after the day trip. Follow our twitter here and like our Facebook page here for more updates.

Week Five

With just about twelve hours until the team starts the trek to Nagoya, I have a few final updates on the robot and a peak into what we will be doing once we arrive.

First of all, I have some final news on the arm. We have been following its progress for weeks, and the final result is here in the form of two videos. The first shows the arm with the grasper finally attached and moving.

This second video shows the grasper hand in action, grabbing a PVC pipe to replicate a door knob like what the robot will need to be able to open during the competition.

The third and final video shows the robot maneuvering through an obstacle course built to replicate the obstacle course at the RoboCup.

This week was mostly spent testing the robot and then packing it up to prepare for the long flight it and we have to Japan. This week has also built up much anticipation towards the trip outside of the competition. While the RoboCup is the primary event of the trip, we will also be experiencing as much of the Japanese culture as possible. “One goal is certainly to take in and appreciate Japanese culture while we are there, and I hope that an international experience touches each of [the students] to become better global citizens,” Ms. Kirsten Hoogenakker, the head of Benilde-St. Margaret’s engineering department who will be going on the trip with us, said.

One of the first events on the agenda will be a day trip to Kyoto via a bullet train, a high-speed Japanese train that can reach up to 320 kilometers per hour. We will be doing many cultural activities while there, including a bike tour and samurai lessons. We will also have time to explore Nagoya and experience many Japanese foods and markets.

Thank you all so much for following the blog so far, and I hope you continue to stay up to date on our trip and especially the competition. Follow our twitter here and like our Facebook page here for more updates. I will be posting more frequently than weekly while we are in Japan, so check on the blog more often to see all my posts.

Week Four

With only one short week to go until we fly out to Nagoya, RKRS has made huge strides towards our goal. Of course, I have an update on our arm as it has been the focus of roughly half of our time in the past week. The video below is of the first run with the arm being controlled solely by programming. The video doesn’t showcase the arm’s hand, but we should be able to run the arm with the hand soon.



As flashy as the arm is, it isn’t the only notable progress that has been made. The programming teams have made headway on the video recognition software. The software uses specific points on an image that it will recognize when shown the same image later. It is the same concept as Snapchat’s facial recognition. Unfortunately, whether or not the programming is complete in time for the competition will be completely dependent on time, as RoboCup 2017 is approaching quickly.

Creating easy controls for the robot with all its moving parts has also proved to be a bit of a challenge. Hopefully, we will have a more user-friendly method that may resemble a gaming controller, but that will also be subject to the amount of time we have to work before the competition.

On a more positive note, after having learned a bit about Japanese culture (food, manners etcs) to prepare for our trip, we received our polos and jumpsuits! With one week left before the team goes to Japan, the jumpsuits were the perfect way to excite everyone before the trip. Next week, the blog post will come one day early, on Thursday, as on Friday, we will be on our way to Nagoya! Stay up to date on our trip by checking in on this blog and by following us on twitter here and liking our Facebook page here. When it comes time for the trip, I will be updating the blog more frequently, and hopefully doing some live-tweeting of the actual competition.


Week Three

After weeks of hard work, the arm and grasper is finally functioning. The video below shows it attached to the mount, not yet on the robot itself. The next step for the arm will be finishing up the programming for the controls, so we won’t have to manually move it. Along with that we still have to set up a camera mount on the grasper to allow the eventual driver of the robot another camera angle. Hopefully soon we will be able to test the arm’s reach and dexterity.

Rising senior Jack Rickman shows off the arm’s capabilities.

Another exciting advancement has been completing the programming for the motion detection. Part of this detection test will be whether or not the robot will be able to recognize certain warning labels and identify them.


With only three weeks to go until we head out for the RoboCup, the excitement grows with every passing day. “Now that June is over, it’s really starting to set in how close we are to the competition. I’m so excited to get to Japan and show off what we’ve been working so hard on,” rising senior Sophie Herrmann said. This year is especially exciting as a few lucky rising seniors were allowed to go on the trip, as normally only members of the current year’s graduating class have participated.

Next week we will all be taking a break to enjoy the 4th of July, so there won’t be any new updates. However, you can catch up on last week’s progress here. You can also follow us on Twitter here and like our Facebook page here. When it comes time for the competition, we will be updating the blog more frequently, but also giving you real time updates on the competition on our Twitter. Check back on July 14th for another update.


Week Two

With week two of summer work coming to a close much progress has been made to the robot! Last week I mentioned mounts for a carbon dioxide sensor, speaker, camera, and infrared camera (if you didn’t catch that update read all about our first week here). This week we have successfully created sensor and camera mounts for the front and back of the robot, a key part of our ability to complete readiness tasks at the actual RoboCup.

Another aspect of the RoboCup will be mobility tasks, such as a driver being able to maneuver through a course with no visual of the actual robot besides the mounted camera on the robot itself. We set up testing areas for these tasks with the hope of being able to practice soon.

Above is an example of the type of incline our robot will been to be capable of scaling and descending during the competition.

The driver will have to maneuver the robot around angled poles such as the one above without breaking any of the poles.

Corners and inclines such as this will be part of the mobility tests.

Another mobility task will be testing our robot’s ability to drive in a straight line over two thin boards (pictured above). Just this week we enhanced the robot’s driving capabilities and it is officially driving straight. We also fixed a squeaking noise that the robot was making as it drove, added bonus of the improvement.