Westpark @ PiWars 2015: a round-up

Well, it’s over. We went; we competed; we came back. And it was great. But let me rewind a little…

This time last week, we’d blown out two of our three Ultrasonic sensors, hadn’t got a working three-point turn, weren’t able to generate enough power to push over a single skittle, had a robot which veered all over the place and literally couldn’t hit a cupboard door straight on. Our SD card had corrupted completely and, when we’d rebuilt that and painfully reconfigured our Wireless AP, the RPi refused to boot while the remaining Ultrasonic sensor was plugged in!

That was Thursday night; we had one more Friday night session before driving up to Cambridge first thing on Saturday. We hadn’t expected to do well against some obviously expert robot makers. But we had hoped to have a robot which worked.

And then, on the Friday, it all came together. Our resident Engineer brought his calm commonsense to bear on the electronics and we got the robot booting. Our Driver came up with a low-tech solution to counteract the unwanted swerving (considerably more effective than the accelerometer/gyroscope-based solution we had been trying to scramble together). We tested the proximity routine until we could get within mm of our cupboard door. And we were able to get a rough three-point turn going.

On Saturday, we made it in good time to the venue. The signage and organisation was great. The IMG_20151205_130004818_HDRprep room was a little crowded (and, later, a little whiffy). The atmosphere was great: 30 teams with a mixture of young and old and groups and individuals and families and clubs and so on. To get a feel for the event, have a look at a video which another team put together. Our Trojan Horse appears around the 20-second mark:

We had entIMG_20151205_105609366ered for all but one of the challenges. We skipped the line-following (as did many others) as we didn’t have the time and skill to get a line-detection sensor and code working. There was a fair amount of waiting around on the day as our slots were at least 30 minutes apart and sometimes an hour. But there was plenty to do: as well as watching other teams participate (and picking up hints) there were vendors and people with stalls showing robots they’d built or tools they were using. Or you could just crash out in the prep. room and chat with other teams or sit and read.

The best event by far was “Pi Noon“. The organisers had kept the details a secret, saying only that your robot needed to be able to attach a straight wire similar to a coat-hanger at the front or back. It turned out to be a duel between robots, each trying to burst the balloon carried by the other. We got a bye through to the second round when our first opponent couldn’t connect to his robot. Then, thanks to some skilful driving we saw off  a strong opponent (which went on to win several other categories) and got through to the quarter finals where we went out to another very strong challenger. The atmosphere throughout was very good: people cheering each other on and winners & losers shaking hands.

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The overall results have now been published. As you can see (search the page for “Westpark”) we came in just above the half-way mark overall. We scored particularly well in the obstacle course down to some skilful driving by our Driver who’d been scouting out the opposition beforehand and deciding on good techniques as our slot came later in the day! We didn’t score so well on the three-point turn (pictured heIMG_20151205_174150804re) but somehow there were teams who did evenIMG_20151205_153747905 worse!

At the end, after all the other prize-giving, the organisers called for someone from each team to come to the front, and they were given the just-released Raspberry Pi Zero by Eben Upton, creator of the Raspberry Pi and judge of several of the Robot categories.

After everything was finished, all the robots piled onto the obstacle course for a photo-shoot! Fortunately, the organisers had been able to fast-forward the final rounds of the challenges so we left Cambridge an hour earlier than expected. It was a great event and I hope the organisers IMG_20151205_174857557— who did a wonderful job — manage to organise it next year. Now that we have some experience in building a robot, we can put together something really special for our entry.

Finally I’d like to thank Mike and Tim the PiWars organisers, Newark Element14 for generously giving us a RPi 2 to use for the competition, all the other people who took part & helped in one way or another. And, of course, our own team: Steve, Chus and the two lads. Here’s to PiWars 2016!