The branch of physics that deals with the action of forces on matter is referred to as mechanics. All considerations of motion are addressed by mechanics, as well as the transmission of forces through the use of simple machines. In our class, the goal is a mechanical goal (placing blocks into a bin) and electronics are used to control the mechanics. While it is not necessary to sit down and draw free body diagrams or figure out the static coefficient of friction between the LEGO tires and the game board, it is helpful to keep certain mechanical concepts in mind when constructing a robot. If a robot's tires are spinning because they do not grip the floor, then something must be done to increase the friction between the tires and the floor. One solution is to glue a rubber band around the circumference of the tire. That problem/solution did not require an in-depth study of physics. Simply considering the different possibilities can lead to more mechanically creative robots. Describing motion involves more than just saying that an object moved three feet to the right. The magnitude and direction of the displacement are important, but so are the characteristics of the object's velocity and acceleration. To understand these concepts, we must examine the nature of force. Changes in the motion of an object are created by forces. Forces
Whether a force is the push of a motor or the pull of gravity or muscles, the important characteristics are the magnitude and direction of the force, and the mass and previous state of motion of the object being affected. By pushing on a moving car, one can either cause it to gain speed or come to a stop, depending on which direction the force is applied, and that same force applied to a feather would be expected to more drastically affect the motion of the feather. It is common practice to determine the expected changes in motion that an object will experience due to a particular force with the aid of a "free body" diagram. A diagram can tell us at a glance in which direction we would expect an object to accelerate or decelerate. A free body diagram shows all of the forces acting on an object, even if their effects are balanced out by another force. We will use free body diagrams to consider different situations involving the lamp that you find at your lab station (Figure 3.1). One force that always acts on the lamp is gravity. This familiar force would accelerate the lamp downward toward the center of the earth if left unchallenged. However, when the lamp is placed on a table it does not move downward because the table holds it up. The lamp is pushing down on the table and the table is pushing up on the lamp. This pair of forces is an action-reaction pair: equal and opposite forces acting on two different objects in contact. The reaction force from the table is called the normal force because this force is oriented normal (perpendicular) to the surface of the table. The arrows representing the forces are labeled. The symbols over the labels remind us that the forces are vector quantities and that the direction in which the force is applied is important. The length of the force vector should be proportional to their magnitudes.
Figure 3.1: Free Body Diagrams
In Figure 3.1 the lamp was represented by a simple dot. We assumed that the lamp was rigid and that a downward force applied at one particular spot on the lamp would yield the same result as a similar downward force applied at a different place on the lamp. Actually, in order for a force of equal magnitude and direction to affect an object's motion in the same manner it must be applied along the same line of action as the original force (see Figure 3.2. If the original force had been a tug on a string tied to the lamp, then it makes sense that grabbing the string at a different distance away from the lamp to tug should not make a difference provided that the direction and magnitude do not change....
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