So… how did it go?
Well, we had ups and downs. At one stage, it felt like a lot of downs, but thankfully, things came good at the end.
We started with the “Blast Off!” challenge – the straight-ish line speed test. This was the one that we decided to use vision for this year, and it worked. We didn’t get the fastest times in the world, but they were respectable, and apart from the first run, successful. We would have done even better here if Angus had realised sooner that he could rescue Glitterator in that first run.
Next up was Spirit of Curiosity, and Angus anticipated doing really well here. Glitterator was made for that type of terrain, and should have aced it. Unfortunately… someone forgot to pack the the AA battery charger, and this meant that our controller wasn’t quite at full charge when we started this challenge. All was going brilliantly, until all of a sudden Glitterator set off with a mind of its own, zooming away off the course. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t get the controller to stay paired, and so the robot kept running away. We had to abandon the challenge with zero samples collected. 😭
Next up was Pi Noon, and at at this stage, Angus was convinced that it was something about a dead spot in the room rather than low batteries causing the problem. Since Pi Noon was a different spot, he reasoned, it would be OK. And at first it was. Up against a beginner (sorry, I forget who), we were at a disadvantage of four balloons to five as a starting point, but after some battle, Angus first equalised it, and then was ahead by one. But then controller woes struck again, and Glitterator zoomed off into the wall. Another challenge we had to abandon, and this one with only 18 seconds remaining, and we were ahead.
Hubble Telescope was next, and as this didn’t involve the games controller we were more confident. This one had been tested multiple times at home, and we were pretty confident with it. Unfortunately… we put Glitterator in the arena, pressed go, and all it wanted to do was travel backwards! It took time, but the realisation dawned that the front sensor was out of alignment. It probably got knocked on route, and we foolishly hadn’t tested it before the challenge. Once we figured that out, we were able to bash it back into position, and get some points on the last of three runs, but unfortunately there we muddled red and blue and so didn’t get a clear run anyway. 😩
All these challenges occurred during the period of judging for artistic and technical merit, so we raced from here to join the queue for this judging. Unfortunately after spending forty minutes in the queue, we reached the front just as we had to leave for our next challege: Space Invaders. We made our apologies, promising to be back, and made our way downstairs.
It was on to Canyons of Mars, the challenge we should have done well last year, but just couldn’t start because of controller problems. This year, I started it from the keyboard, and for the most part it performed (using completely different code to last year, because this year Angus coded it). I think we might have had one clear run, and two that required rescues. Not sure, but it was enough to make us happy, and so we headed back to the artistic and technical judging in a better frame of mind.
We headed back to the artistic and technical merit judging, and managed to squeeze both in before our next challenge, though this meant our technical explanations were very brief!
I’d tried to find a vendor with a battery charger for sale, but the best I’d managed was one selling pre-charged AA battersies. Better than nothing, I thought, and we headed to this challenge with these. Not everything was great though… we had a second battery pack we were using to drive the laser and gun motors, and as we set up for this challenge, we realised that it wasn’t working 😱 Fortunately, Angus was able to adapt quicky, and while he had to abandon the laser, at least he could run the gun motors from the primary battery pack. From there, things sort of worked… we got some hits. Some bounced off the targets, but some targets went down. And then Glitterator went rogue again, heading off with a mind of its own. At least we got some points though!
Our last challenge was remaining: the obstacle course. This was the one Angus really wanted to do well in, but also one that needed a working controller. I did another round of the vendors, hoping to find either non-recharchable batteries (these have a higher starting voltage) or a AA battery charger. Thankfully I discovered a vendor with non-recharchables. If only we’d found them earlier!!!
With fresh batteries in, we headed to the course, full of hope. Angus managed three clean rounds, with a very respectable best time of 1:00. And this was good enough to with this challenge for the intermediate category. Of course he didn’t know this at the time, but when he found out, it totally made his day.
We were astounded to achieve 4th place in the intermediate category. Just think how well we could have done if things had gone to plan! (But I know everyone is saying that.) Seriously though, it just goes to show how having a go at everything really makes a difference.
- Check that you’ve remembered all your equipment. I still can’t believe that we forgot the AA battery charger.
- Non-rechargables work better than rechargables. We already knew this, but learned it again!
- Check your sensors. I fully take responsiblity for this failure. Why I didn’t I don’t know. Nerves perhaps? I usually do this check without thinking about it. We still would have lost points because we messed up the colours, but we would have got more.
- We didn’t quite get our hardware done by Christmas (which was our aim), but it wasn’t too long after. This gave us plenty of time to focus on the coding for the autonomous challenges. This in turn meant we were finished, bar tuning, two weeks before the competition. As you’ve just read, things still didn’t go to plan, but it was a much less stressful lead-up than we’ve had in the past.
So many people I could have met but didn’t. A small number of people I sort of met but didn’t properly. I don’t cope well with crowds. I’m perfectly happy standing in the front of a lecture theatre full of 200 students and talking for an hour, but interacting with people one-on-one is really hard, and I went into semi-shutdown on the day and barely talked to anyone 😢 I really wish I’d chatted with more people.
It took a lot of convincing from my family for me to agree to put in an application this year. I only did so because the kids wanted to do more, and they did. Angus did the bulk of it, but Erin made a great go at the colour challenge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really want a year off next year.
Angus however is inspired. We got home late on Sunday night, and on Monday morning I headed off to work before Angus and Erin were even awake. The minute I walked in the door after work, Angus was begging me to look at PiBorg motors, planning for his next robot. This morning (Wednesday) before work, he wanted “a spare 3A+, pi zero and the monster borg controller.” When I came home from work, he told me that he wanted to create a raspberry pi based games controller, using the bluetooth comms I’d set up between Glitter brain and Glitter brawns. (Something I’d already thought about myself, but not mentioned at all to him.) I think next time he will be in on his own though, as a solo effort.
The question is: what category should he be targetting??