Back in April, myself and our Pi Wars robot team, led by Ian Wilkinson, participated in the Pi Wars Robot challenge at Cambridge University Computer Laboratory. Although we had planned the robot for about a year, in the end, due to personal commitments by everybody, the amount of time we actually spent working on the robot was very minimal. In fact, we only had a working robot a week before the competition and had yet to test it on any of the challenges. What little time we had was spent on getting the robot to navigate the minimal maze, and in all the testing it only succeeded once or twice. We had no testing whatsoever on any of the other challenges.
The robot was also ugly. Very ugly. We had intended on all kinds of nice cosmetic features to make it look nice but ran out of time. So all we had was the basic shell with all of the circuitry exposed. It wasn’t pretty.
Ian did most of the coding on the Raspberry Pi. I did the coding on the Arduino for the sensors. It wasn’t great and if we had more time I would have liked to have refined the code. In the end, it was a rough and ready read of sensor data and spit it out of the serial line to the Raspberry Pi. Not elegant, but it worked.
We, therefore, went into the competition with the intention of having fun and hoping we didn’t come last. On the day there were 54 teams competing so we had lots of competition. Our ultimate aim was to simply keep off the bottom of the rankings.
The day was great fun. It was manic at times with the schedule only allowing a very short amount of time in-between challenges, but we enjoyed it. We had to test the robot out at the start of the day and also prior to each challenge. We had almost zero testing prior to the day due to leaving everything to the last minute.
On a few challenges, we did pretty well and expected to get a few points. We could also see a lot of the other teams were struggling even more than us in some challenges. So, maybe we would come off the bottom rankings after all. We would have to wait and see.
When it came to the end of the day when the results and prize giving started we were absolutely gobsmacked. We found our robot had ranked 2nd in our class overall! What the hell!! We certainly didn’t expect that and were open mouthed amazed. We also came first in our class for the straight line speed test.
What a day and what a result! I now wonder just how well we would have done if we had spent the amount of time on coding and testing that we originally set out to do. I am sure we could have done way better, especially with the autonomous challenges.
If you want to learn more about Pi Wars then go to the Pi Wars website at: piwars.org