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Flying next step for student’s robot dragon

Nov 23rd, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

MANY young teens are inspired by fantasy novels and movies, but Lower Hutt student Reiker von Motschelnitz has gone one step further.

He’s built his own robotic dragon.

“I really like dragons,” says Reiker (14). “Dragons are cool.”

With support from his mother, Aly Ortega,  and a world of web-based mentors, home-educated Reiker has designed and built ArachSkye, a steampunk-style dragon made from blue acrylic, which walks and flaps its wings.

Reiker and ArachSkye came third-equal in their category for the recent New Zealand-wide Bright Sparks competition – run by the Electro Technology Industry Training Organisation – trumped by William Wilks’ mousetrap system “MouseNet” and Nathan James’ road safety tool, “iSight.”

“Reiker is intrinsically motivated,” says Aly.

She says this compensates for the motivation he would normally absorb from a classroom setting.

“Being an internet native, he uses technology to find what he is interested in quite easily,” she says.

For Reiker, creating the dragon involved teaching himself to design the parts in 3D using a computer-assisted design (CAD) program named Solidworks.

He also learned how to write a program to control the robot with Arduino, an open-source microchip platform.

Patrick Herd, an engineer from Weltec, was available to help Reiker with printing his designs from Solidworks, and a software developer from as far afield as the University of California was on hand for advice on linkages in the dragon’s walking mechanism.

Reiker says he had a few problems because he designed the dragon for sheet metal but then printed it in acrylic: “A few of the parts were too small and others were too large.”

Due to what he calls “the magic of CAD”, Reiker had no major difficulties with the project.

He plans to develop ArachSkye further, taking apart this first prototype and rebuilding it differently.

Asked whether he will try to make the next design fly, he says he would like the dragon to glide.

“Flying is more complicated and currently my focus is on the design and mechanical systems, particularly linkages.”

As well as the annual competition for young talent, Bright Sparks runs an online forum where students interested in electronics, electrical engineering or programming can discuss projects.

Aly says Andrew Hornblow from Bright Sparks has helped Reiker extensively with past projects through the forums, encouraging him to stay creative and follow his interests.

Bright Sparks communications advisor Christina Yee says a lot of students met for the first time at the awards after trading opinions and advice for months on the forums.

“We get about 20 posts a day from kids all over the country,” she says.

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is a Whitireia journalism student.
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