Phew! The last few
weeks months have been jam-packed full of stuff. I’ve been up to my ears in various bits of coursework and Student Robotics. I haven’t ever really got around to blogging about Student Robotics before now (except for the hardware release, and even then I didn’t say much). So here’s my attempt at describing what it is and how it got there.
Steve, Howard and I started talking about Student Robotics in August 2006. We were students at Southampton University (Steve and I still are). It wasn’t called ‘Student Robotics’ then — it was ‘ECSSR’ (Electronics and Computer Science Society Robotics). We weren’t really sure what we were trying to do, but had a vague idea of what sort of things we wanted. Howard and I had been involved in FIRST competitions before (along with Jeff and Justyn), and so we had an idea of the sort of things that we wanted to do:
- Bring robotics to young people
- Do some robotics ourselves
- Make it cheap
- Make autonomous things (not remote controlled cars)
- Not be robot wars
As I said, Howard, Jeff, Justyn and I had all been to FIRST events before with Peter Symonds Sixth Form College. If you’re from the USA then it’s likely you’ll know what a FIRST event is like. If you’re from anywhere else, you’ve almost certainly never heard of it. FIRST is a robotics competition that’s mostly held in the USA. Teams of young people, mostly in the age range of 16-18, get six weeks to build a remote controlled robot that has to complete some sort of challenge. The challenge is usually something that has a big human involvement and is something that one could quite happily watch without getting too bored! The atmosphere at FIRST competitions is nuts. Everyone’s hyped up, everyone cheers everyone else on. Each team strives to have something unique that separates them from the rest — t-shirts, badges, vacuum-formed hats, cucumbers for fellow competitors, capes, necklaces, cheerleaders and a whole load of other things that are just too numerous and varied to list or remember.
So FIRST is great. However, it has its downsides. Last time I heard, the entrance fee for FIRST was $6000 per team. That’s a big barrier for teams of students. You’ve got to be really sure that you want to spend your time working on robotics to find that sort of money. I think most teams get theirs through sponsorship. Secondly, FIRST robots are remote controlled cars. Why not be entirely autonomous? We can have autonomy, after all, “Computing is cheap”TM. A robot that drives itself has got to be more interesting than one that is being driven by someone.
So, we started trying to get people together within the Uni who would be interested in helping us run a competition between local sixth form colleges. The competition would take place on campus in Easter 2008. This was all starting in October 2006. We knew that we needed a lot of time to prepare for this competition. We needed to get electronics together, program it, document it and most importantly make it all compatible with our local schools.
To be continued in episode 2…
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