Eurobot 2012: Lessons learned and plans for next year.

Now we’re in the ‘lull’ between the finals and the new rules being released, I thought it would be good to analyse what didn’t quite go to plan this year, and how it can be rectified for next year.

First of all, I stand by the philosophy that we did all we could in the time available. Unforeseen and uncontrollable delays with funding meant that we were still putting the hardware together right up to the week of the competition. This meant that we had much less time practising on the competition table than I would have liked, which meant that we ended up competing with un-calibrated software.

Aside from this, there was some behaviour that stemmed from our choice of hardware. The motor controllers were chosen more for their relevance to our current research interests, rather than their suitability for use as drive controllers. We chose them because they were the only low-powered motor controllers that we could find that could be controlled over a CAN-bus. They were designed to be used independent controllers for positioning motorised arms, etc, rather than the continuous wheel application that we had for them. This meant that they are very good at controlling the speed of their assigned wheel, but are unaware of how fast the other wheel was travelling. Having used dual motor controllers in the past, I didn’t realise quite how significant this would be. If we want to stick with the CAN-bus (which is a beautiful, beautiful system!) and these motor controllers, there are some problems we need to overcome Continue reading

Eurobot (UK) 2012… Done!

After an intensive week of testing on the competition table at Middlesex University (our only time with the table) our team, “R.Me.R.T”, placed 5th overall which, although not taking us to the world finals in France, was an excellent result considering the timescale of the build. The robot passed the approval phase in time to take part in all four qualification matches. Continue reading

Eurobot 2012 Progress

So, a very scary 19 days to go until the competition, and things are starting to get very busy with the project. I don’t want to give too much away on here in terms of tactics and full hardware specs (for obvious reasons) but there are some things that I can report on. Continue reading

A word about our sponsors…

Competition robots are not cheap to build, so R.Me.R.T have gathered sponsorship from several companies. As the Eurobot UK 2012  competition approaches, I thought it was only polite to mention the companies who have supported the team with the project. Continue reading

The importance of proportional simplicity in competition robotics: Reflection on my past Eurobot experiences

This year will be the 3rd time that I have entered Eurobot as a serious competitor (Last year, in 2011, I attempted to throw an entry together the night before the UK competition for a bit of fun and never really had time to write the software). I’ve spent a lot of time of late reflecting on my experiences in the competition, and it has become apparent that there are several reasons why people enter the competition:

  • Small-budget entrants, who are in the competition to see how far they can go.
  • ‘Work-in-progress’ teams, who are using the competition as a focus to develop a particular algorithm or technology. These teams are in the competition for the learning potential rather than the winning potential, but are in the competition to demonstrate what they are capable of.
  • Large team, large budget entries seem to be the most successful overall. Often, these teams have entered for several years and know the competition inside out. They are serious competitors, who aim to develop a sickeningly impressive machine with the resources available to them.

My previous entries have fallen into the first category, which is arguably the most challenging position to be in. Continue reading

Motor controllers

Today I took delivery of two 5A bi-directional motor controllers with J1939 CAN-bus interface courtesy of our new Eurobot team sponsors, Axiomatic, of Mississauga, Canada.

I’m very impressed by the customer service from these people, I feel they’ve really gone out of their way to answer my questions and make sure their product is fit for my intended use. The AX100600 controllers look very well made (using weight as a sign of quality!) and the ‘Electronic Assistant’ software looks very comprehensive and useful. POC videos will follow when we’ve sourced the correct connectors and got something moving (The impatient side of me was considering soldering wires directly to the pins for now, but seeing the quality of these units, this would be sacrilegious!). The beauty of CAN is that they can be easily tested and calibrated on the bench, before connecting up the robot’s main controller (more on this soon, too!).

Eurobot 2012: Initial thoughts

After being away from the competition for a year, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how things can be improved and drawn out some draft objectives for this year’s competition:

  • Systematic development of a time-triggered architecture for an accurate drive platform with portable localisation algorithms to be reused in future competitions.
    • My previous 2 entries have both been pretty much ground-up builds. I’d like to build a framework that can be reused and built upon in the future.
  • Ability to keep track of (x,y) coordinates on the table to a reasonable accuracy and report these to a PC during testing.
    • I have discovered that in order to be successful, I need to remove as much of the guess-work from the process as possible. If the robot thinks that it’s in a completely different place than it is, I need to know exactly where it’s gone wrong to improve future reliability.
  • Score a reasonable amount of game points reliably to allow progression to the world finals.
    • This is currently a 3-man team so I’m not expecting to beat the likes of RCVA. However my success in the 2010 competition with a scruffy MDF box proves that simplicity with high reliability will always win over complexity with low reliability.
More information on our progress will be available soon (without giving too much away!)

Eurobot 2012

So the rules for the Eurobot 2012 have been out and tempting me to enter again. It’s a pirate theme this year, which will involve foraging for ‘coins’ (painted CD’s) and stealing from the opponent!

I’m hoping to use this year to develop a really solid drive platform and localisation system, which has been my weakest point in the past, as well as scoring a reasonable amount of points with high reliability to secure a place in the world finals. No fancy, over-complicated mechanisms, but the ability to repeat, repeat, repeat!

More information on the (currently unnamed) team’s progress will appear here when I have more to report.

Eurobot 2010: Feed the World

Following the mixed success from the previous year, Darren Lewis and I returned to Eurobot in 2010. This time the competition was to collect various objects from the table;

Tomatoes – lightweight juggling balls positioned at known points on the table

Corn – plastic rods located in holes on the table, also at known positions, but with unmovable black corn placed in random positions within the pattern.

Oranges – heavyweight juggling balls positioned on ‘trees’ at the top of a ramp at the back of the table.

Once the items were collected, they were to be taken to the corner diagonally opposite the starting zone and deposited in the bin. The team with the greatest weight of items at the end won. Continue reading