More tea please.

Project Formica: A really enjoyable project

dsc01545.jpg Project Formica is now over. We’ve given our final demonstration to our lecturer, and we’ve said goodbye to all of our robots. I think that this has been by far the best coursework that I’ve been involved in at Southampton. It’s a shame that it wasn’t the best coursework when measured marks-wise! I strongly recommend the “biologically-inspired robotics” module to anyone doing electronic engineering at Southampton University.

In the end we built 25 robots. These robots are designed to be very cheap. If you strip away our prototyping costs, then each of them cost just over £10. If you build 1000 of them, then the components only cost around £6.50. That’s quite cheap!

We got the 25 robots constructed in a 14 hour build-fest. We are indebted to Klaus-Peter, Tom, Tobias and Justyn for their help in this experience, and hopefully we’ll express our gratitude in some way soon! In 14 hours we managed to solder over 1500 components between us.

For our demo, we got the robots doing a random walk until they found food. Food in this case is a piece of cardboard with a cuboid piece of wood stuck in the middle. They’d then push the food towards light. When they’d reached the light (which they determine through light level), they’d reverse for a bit and then go about finding some more food. Every so often, they’d go and charge themselves from the charging station. Charging is just a case of driving straight into a charging bay — with their prongs and skis making the electrical connections to the power supply. They use their IR communications to talk to other robots and ascertain how much food is left around in the arena that isn’t near the light. The liklihood of going to charge is affected by this food level.

So, all that remains now of my degree is 2 exams and a 3-minute presentation. Pretty scary!


Posted at 1:38 am on Sunday 25th May 2008

6 responses to “Project Formica: A really enjoyable project”

  1. Adam says:


    I have been following this project on your blog. Any chance of any more information on it? Circuits / Source code at all?


  2. rob says:

    Hi Adam,

    I’m hoping to post some more things about how these things work soon — I’ve been on fire recently because of coursework and exams. I would like to release source code etc, and should be able to after checking with everyone else who’s involved :-)

    Last exam’s on Tuesday, so I’ll be posting quite soon!


  3. Adam says:

    Hi Rob,

    Did you ever get around to posting more information on this project?


  4. rob says:

    Hi Adam,

    Sorry about the massive delay — been a bit busy. Jeff’s just told me that the firmware and designs will be out “within this week”.


  5. […] “Why two binaries?” I hear you say. Each of these binaries only uses half of the MSP430’s flash. The two binaries contain the same code but one is linked to reside in the top half of flash and the other resides in the bottom half. Only one of these is executing at one particular time whilst the other can be overwritten with a later firmware version. I went for this approach for two reasons. Firstly, I’m new to writing bootloaders and so I decided to do something simple that could easily be slotted in with our existing code. Secondly, I had already written some of the code to do this for the Formica robots. […]

  6. Zbysek says:

    Great project!
    This web inspired me to create my own similar project.
    Thx for solution problem with gears.My current project http://cz.youtube.com/watch?v=BMFb3tmGO74

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