Undergraduate, high school students partner to create 3-D printed T-shirt launcher for inaugural EERE Robotics Internship Program project




Derek Vaughan, Sierra Palmer, Weishan Liao and Ahmad Marion

Derek Vaughan (center left) and Sierra Palmer (far right), undergraduate students and participants of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Robotics Program, teamed up with Hardin Valley Academy students Weishan Liao (far left) and Ahmad Marion (center right) to construct Night Hawk, a robot that doubles as a high-powered T-shirt launcher for the high school’s sporting events.

With the ability to generate high-frequency soundwaves, the power of two air-compressed cannons, and a name like ‘Night Hawk,’ you might think Hardin Valley Academy’s newest robotic addition is a nightmare out of a Transformers movie. However, the robot designed and 3-D printed by university undergraduates Derek Vaughan and Sierra Palmer—in partnership with Hardin Valley seniors—is actually a T-shirt cannon used for school functions.

Night Hawk was born from a collaborative effort between the Knoxville, Tennessee Hardin Valley Academy’s robotics team, the RoHAWKtics, and undergraduates participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Robotics Internship Program. The Robotics Internship Program, administered by ORAU through its contract with DOE to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education, is an opportunity for current college students and recent graduates to intern with public agencies and private companies for the continued development of the robotics technical and engineering workforce.

Over the course of the four-week program, the team of students designed and assembled Night Hawk’s robotic parts using a large-scale, 3-D printer with carbon fiber-reinforced polymer at the U.S. DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The students quickly learned that 3-D printing—though not without its challenges—does allow for the ability to make design changes without significant time delays. This reduction in time led to a fairly linear assembly process and more time to troubleshoot Night Hawk’s programming software.

Derek Vaughan

Derak VaughanVaughan applied for the EERE Robotics Internship Program after he learned about it while participating in FIRST Robotics Competitions. Vaughan, an aerospace engineering major at Purdue University, saw this as a great opportunity to supplement his education with hands-on experience in additive manufacturing, which is often considered synonymous with 3-D printing.

“I expect that additive manufacturing, and the experiences I now have with it, will soon be invaluable in the field of aerospace,” Vaughan explained.

In addition working with additive manufacturing, the program also provided Vaughan with other professional experiences. With an open-ended project and limited timeframe, the EERE Robotics Internship was similar to a real-world industrial environment and gave participants an opportunity to use their logic and creativity to collaboratively accomplish a task.

“My favorite part of the program was how we were given a project to complete and it was up to us on how we completed it. Working on our own gave us experience in making reasonable decisions to solve problems rather than just following a set of instructions,” Vaughan said.

In order for Night Hawk to accurately deliver a shirt to an excited fan, Vaughan calculated range estimates for various firing elevations and pre-programmed ideal locations into the robot’s controller. Additionally, he tested several different motor position sensors.

Following his time in the EERE Robotics Internship Program, Vaughan returned to Purdue University to continue his degree. For those considering pursuing the internship, he said, “The program provided a great experience that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. If I were to give advice, it would be to take advantage of the freedom of the program to try and get as much experience as possible.”

Sierra Palmer

Sierra PalmerAs an alumnus of Hardin Valley Academy’s RoHAWKtics team, Palmer was thrilled with the opportunity to create a robot that was both durable and representative of their team and school spirit.

“I was excited about making the T-shirt cannon for RoHAWKtics because it meant that I could use the skills I've learned from the team to give back.”

Since the team was able to finish Night Hawk ahead of schedule, Palmer was able to work on another, much larger project—a solar-powered house. The 38x12x13-footbuilding was printed using a Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine, which adds successive layers of material as opposed to traditional machining techniques that rely on the removal of material.

“I always saw people working on the BAAM and really wanted to be trained on it due to the fact that it is used in many big projects. The amount of research that was being done with that machine was tremendous and I just wanted to at least have a little part in it,” said Palmer.

As one of 30 women in her 350-person major at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Palmer is currently working on her robotics engineering degree and is excited to begin her electrical engineering and robotics courses next semester. She hopes to intern with the EERE Robotics Program again, with the ultimate goal of entering the field of underwater robotics upon graduation.

“Research has always intrigued me because it's all new information. There's not a textbook that's going to tell you exactly what's going on. Working on research means that you're paving the way for future discoveries. It's a continuous process of learning new things,” said Palmer.

With the ability to generate high-frequency soundwaves, the power of two air-compressed cannons, and a name like ‘Night Hawk,’ you might think Hardin Valley Academy’s newest robotic addition is a nightmare out of a Transformers movie. However, the robot designed and 3-D printed by university undergraduates Derek Vaughan and Sierra Palmer—in partnership with Hardin Valley seniors—is actually a T-shirt cannon used for school functions.

Night Hawk was born from a collaborative effort between the Knoxville, Tennessee Hardin Valley Academy’s robotics team, the RoHAWKtics, and undergraduates participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Robotics Internship Program. The Robotics Internship Program, administered by ORAU through its contract with DOE to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education, is an opportunity for current college students and recent graduates to intern with public agencies and private companies for the continued development of the robotics technical and engineering workforce.

Over the course of the four-week program, the team of students designed and assembled Night Hawk’s robotic parts using a large-scale, 3-D printer with carbon fiber-reinforced polymer at the U.S. DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The students quickly learned that 3-D printing—though not without its challenges—does allow for the ability to make design changes without significant time delays. This reduction in time led to a fairly linear assembly process and more time to troubleshoot Night Hawk’s programming software.