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In a previous article, I explained how Pi Wars, the Raspberry Pi Robotics Challenge Competition, had come out of a collaboration between myself, Michael Horne and my friend Tim Richardson. It was Tim's idea (so blame him!) to do a robotics competition featuring the Raspberry Pi and, between us, we've successfully run three events so far.
Preparation & Team Selection
For the past few months, we've been gearing up for the fourth competition, which is to take place on 21st-22nd April at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory (William Gates Building - pictured below with Pi Wars 2017 in full swing!). Tickets to attend the event as spectators (which is great fun!) are available now - visit the Pi Wars website to find out more.
For Pi Wars 2018, we had 150 teams apply to compete, breaking our previous record. Out of these, we had to choose 76 to compete (38 per day), leading to much discussion and a fair amount of agonising over our choices. We also needed to choose a fair amount to be reserves, knowing that teams would drop out as we went along. This is inevitable, as teams realise how much work is involved in building a competing robot.
This year, as for 2017, we are holding the Schools competition on the Saturday and the competition for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced adult teams on the Sunday. We have a policy of not referring to either day as the 'main competition' - both sets of competitors are equally important to us. We'd really love to see, in future, people in adult teams who previously competed with a school!
For this year's competition, we are again changing some of the challenges and bringing in fresh new ones for the teams to try. Tim has been hard at work constructing the courses. (He still doesn't let me near the power tools, but I did pick up a paint brush the other day!)
For our robot-vs-robot challenge, we are retaining Pi Noon, in which robots must burst the balloons mounted on their opponent.
Also retained is the Straight-Line Speed Test, with the added wrinkle of chicane-like sections which narrow the track, meaning that robots will need to be even more accurate in their autonomous movements.
One of the new, autonomous challenges is Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Robots are placed in a four-sided box-like course (with an open top). At each of the corners is a different-coloured ball. The robots must find and approach the balls one at a time in the correct sequence, stopping just short of touching them. On the fourth ball approach, the robot has to stop on cue. It's an intriguing challenge that has caused much consternation in the competitors as they try to install OpenCV, or use a Pixy camera for colour recognition. You can see a 3D rendered video of the course below.
Also returning this year is the perennial favourite, The Obstacle Course. Some obstacles will be new, some will be the same as last year. The important thing is: the teams don't know what they will face until the day they come to the event. So, they must produce a robot that is a good 'all-rounder' to face what they find. Below you can see one of the robots from 2017 take on the 'Rock-Paper-Scissors' portion of the 2017 Obstacle Course.
One of last year's challenging autonomous events was The Minimal Maze. Not many teams made it around twice (which was the requirement), however, we've brought it back this year as we're sure that teams will learn from last year and improve.
A new challenge for this year is The Duck Shoot. This remote-controlled event will feature wooden targets that competitors must 'shoot' down. This can be achieved either by using a firing mechanism (such as a Nerf gun) or by hitting-and-rolling the five supplied balls towards the targets. We've seen a lot of Twitter activity for this course, with various different teams showing how they'll attempt the challenge. We're particularly enamoured with this laser-guided aiming system from veteran 'Intermediate' competitor David Pride:
One of the most fun challenges last year was Slightly Deranged Golf. A remote-controlled challenge, competitors must guide a golf ball around a crazy golf-style course and get the ball in the hole at the end. This challenge makes a return this year with a slightly modified tee area. Here's competitor Jonathan Pallant's first (and best) attempt at the course with his robot, Steve:
That rounds out our seven challenge courses for 2018. We're hoping we haven't made them too tough - we like to get a balance between being too easy and being too difficult for the majority of teams. Of course, when you're seeking to differentiate between the teams in terms of giving them points, you have to design and build courses to test the abilities of the competitors!
Volunteering & Getting involved
As always with Pi Wars, we are desperate for as many volunteers as possible. Tickets for Judges and Volunteers are completely free. All we ask is that you give up an hour or two over the course of the weekend to help us with the running of the event. Judging is fairly easy - we provide you with scoresheets and a stopwatch to time the competitors' attempts at the particular challenge. It's just a question of timing accurately and ticking boxes for any penalities incurred. We also need help manning the front desk and collecting scoresheets, amongst other things. So, if you'd like to attend for free, and don't mind helping us out, we'd very much like for you to be involved! Grab your tickets here.
If you'd like to attend as a spectator without any of those responsibilities, however, that's absolutely fine, too. Tickets for those aged under 18 are absolutely free. For those aged 18 years or older, tickets are just £5 for one day and £7 for two days. The tickets are all available on this page.
We hope that you'll join myself, Tim and our head judge, Dr Lucy Rogers (of Robot Wars fame!), in Cambridge on 21st-22nd April.
As always, if you have any questions, or would like to know more information about the event, please contact us through the Pi Wars website.