Thursday, 12 July 2018

The Beginning of My Pi Wars Journey

Back in September 2017 as I was starting to engage with people in the Raspberry Pi community on social media, a friend told me I would love Pi Wars and should check it out. A quick Google search brought me to PiWars.org where I learned about this exciting non-destructive robotics competition in Cambridge. Unfortunately the deadline for entries was only about 3 weeks away, and I had only just built my first robot using the CamJam Edukit #3 which started me on these adventures. Looking at the challenges it was clear I had a lot to learn before I could write an entry application. So it would not be for that year. I noted the date of the competition in my calendar and planned to attend.

It was a start, but I was going to need something a bit more sophisticated than this.
Over the next 6 months, I built my first few robots. Mainly as technology demonstrators for kids clubs and workshops I had been volunteering at. As the date of the Pi Wars competition approached, I went to a couple of the excellent meet ups at Cambridge Makespace organised by previous Pi Wars winner Brian Corteil where I got to meet some of the competitors and see some of their robots in development. I registered as a volunteer for the event and when the weekend of the competition came, I did the morning shift judging the obstacle course for the schools entries on the Saturday.

As well as seeing lots of robots over the Pi Wars weekend, I also learned a lot about what went wrong for competitors. Robots which could not grip on slopes, or get over the edge of a piece of plywood. Batteries which came loose and dangled on the ends of their leads as the robots attempted the courses. Controllers which stopped talking to their robots. Robots which stopped when their software crashed each time they took a knock. Robots which arrived at their time slot for a challenge with the wrong version of the code on their SD Card. Operators who struggled with the fine control needed to get their robot to drive where they wanted when they wanted.

Clearly a competition robot needed to be robust, well tested and the driver well practised in operating it. It also helped to have pink unicorn stickers on it (well it should look interesting, not just be functional). I took my kids along on the Sunday to spectate, met a lot of people, bought lots of parts to build bigger and better robots and came away with my daughter saying she wanted to enter, and wanting to have a go myself too.

So now the Pi Wars 2019 dates have been confirmed, and the details of the challenges published. Clearly it is time to start thinking up some ideas!

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