SciTech Tuesday: The NWWII Museum’s 2016 Robotics Challenge
Robotics wasn’t a big part of WWII, but the foundations of the field were there:
-In Operations Aphrodite and Anvil, older bombers were packed with explosives, piloted into the air, and then controlled from the ground by radio control and remote video to be aimed at bunkers and military installations in German territory. The operations were not particularly successful and soon discontinued. Many of the planes were lost to flak, or control problems. Joseph Kennedy Jr, future President John F Kennedy’s brother, was killed piloting a plan in one of these missions.
-Japanese engineers designed fire bombs carried by large weather balloons that carried them across the Pacific Ocean. They had pressure regulators that inflated or deflated the balloons according to altitude. The bombs were mostly not successful at causing anything other than a few small forest fires.
-The Norden Bomb Sight controlled the flight of bomber to keep it on course to hit the target selected by the bombardier. The Norden had a poor practical accuracy (it hit within about 2,400 feet of its target) because the values the crew had to put into its computer for airspeed and altitude and wind direction were often inaccurate.
-Both the Army and the Navy used target drones produced by a company owned by actor Reginald Denny. These radio-controlled aircraft were originally designed by Walter Righter, and were launched by catapult. The radio controller was manufactured by Bendix, and the planes were made at a plant on the Van Nuys CA airport. A photographer visiting the plant made one of it’s woman workers (Norma Jeane Dougherty) famous. These were very successful drones, but that’s because they were made for target practice.
So why does the National WWII Museum have a Robotics Challenge?
Today drones are in the news daily, as are autonomous cars and all sorts of other robots. By targeting robotics, we hope to encourage a new generation of technology innovators. They learn practical skills like building and coding and troubleshooting, and the principles of teamwork, creativity, and persistence that are as important today as they were for the STEM professionals who worked for victory in WWII.
Our Robotics Challenge highlights parts of the history of WWII, while challenging today’s students to apply the values and characteristics that helped us win the war to problems today.
Posted by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.