Friday, June 29, 2012

Duel Down Under - Day Two

Today was another awesome day at the Duel Down Under! What made it especially cool was knowing that so many of our extended team were following along with the live stream.

Our top priority this morning was to set up and test the autonomous section of our program, but unfortunately we didn't have time to test our robot on the competition field prior our first game.... instead we got it working in a courtyard outside, but through a combination of good judgement and chance managed to come up with a routine that was indeed capable of shooting goals. In fact, Devil Robotics scored the first baskets of the day!

It was awesome to see other team's robots improve throughout the day, and one of the highlights was seeing an alliance of teams 3132 and 5152 succeed in balancing both robots on their bridge.

One of the main problems we had was with the tube sliding down, but this was solved with a couple of well placed screws. Then after a particularly sluggish performance in the eighth game, we discovered the importance switching to a fresh battery every so often!

There were some great workshops on today, but it was clear that we needed all four students on the field whenever we were competing, so unfortunately none of them were able to attend any. Next time... more students!! Anyway, I was able to get along to the Autodesk and National Instruments workshops and found both of these very instructive and will definitely be able to pass on much of what I learned.

Tomorrow the live stream will be running again with more qualification matches from 9:30 to 11:00am, final matches between 12:30 to 2:00pm, and the closing ceremony at 2:00pm.

What I learned from our visit to Google....

Last night, to finish day one of the Duel Down Under, all teams were invited to Google's Sydney office where Google Maps and lots of other cool stuff has been developed.

After a presentation that included a Q&A with one of their software engineers, we were divided into groups and taken on tours around their offices. On the way I learned that....
  • Google is just as awesome at marketing as they are at making cool stuff. They understand that the way to a teenager's heart is through giving them free stuff, including food!
  • The software engineers joke that employees at Google can be divided into two main groups: software engineers and everybody else. (But I don't think they're joking...).
  • The Google offices look like a fun place to work... the walls are pretty colours, there are nice meeting rooms everywhere, and lots of neat places to enjoy the views. There's also a tyre swing in the foyer, scooters for getting to their other set of offices 100m down the road, and kitchens with snacks you can help yourself to whenever you like (including visitors apparently).
  • When employees need computer hardware, they can just go and get it! The idea is that they would rather their employees just have what they need so that they can get on with their work... what an obvious, but rarely enacted, idea!
  • Google developers use Mac OS X more than Windows. It's not uncommon to have a team where there's only one Windows computer - and that's so that they can test Internet Explorer.
  • Although they do most of their coding in Java, they don't employ people for their knowledge of a particular programming language. They're much more interested things like a demonstrated commitment to open source projects.
  • Our guide was asked what subjects were most relevant for someone wanting to become a software engineer. He was fairly dismissive of most of the currently available computer science courses and instead stressed the importance of mathematics. He said that if you're not enjoying mathematics, then maybe you've got a bad teacher (!), and emphasised that learning how to solve problems is more important that learning facts. Sounds familiar!!  (-:

Devil Robotics at the Duel Down Under!! (Day One)

I can't believe how much has happened since the last post where I speculated about the possibility of starting Tasmania's first FRC team... I guess the main thing that's happened is that we did it! We started a team called Devil Robotics and got ourselves to Australia's (and the Southern Hemisphere's for that matter) first FRC event, the Duel Down Under in Sydney, June 28-30.

When we arrived that the venue at about 9:15am this morning, we found that we were the last to arrive. To get our robot here, we had figured the best option was to pull it apart and pack the sections into different boxes that we'd be able to get onto a plane. As a result, we carried our robot bits into a room full of teams busily working on what looked like some darn fine - and clearly fully assembled - robots!

Trying not to feel too intimidated, we set to work re-assembling our robot in time for the first practice matches at around noon. As we worked, lots of local students and mentors offered to help. They genuinely wanted to help us, but I guess it must've looked like we were going to need some serious help if our robot was going to have any chance of being ready in time.

When we brought it out onto the competition area (at about 11:59am!), I was quite surprised to discover that some teams were less ready than us, and that we were actually the third team (out of the seven at the event) ready for a practise game. But that didn't surprise me nearly as much as what happened next.... Our robot played a practise game against two other robots - and was the first and only robot to score any points in that round!!! Unfortunately there was a problem with the drive system. One side of the robot didn't move - which turned out to be simply that a wire that had come loose in transport to the field. Even so, we were off to a great start.

In the next practise game, with the drive system working properly, not only was our robot able to score points, but it was incredibly agile, and was even able to get over the bridge - something that we hadn't been able to test before the practise match.
After the practises, we worked on fixing a couple of elements of the robots - such as how to prevent balls from becoming accidentally stuck within the robot (see the photo) and the placement of the circuit breaker.

Over the course of the day, team members attended workshops on topics such as...
  • Nerd conventions (Going to your first regional and the rookie all-star submission)
  • Chocolates, cookies and lightbulbs (Sponsorship and sustainability)
  • Google apps for your team
 In the evening, we all went to Google's Sydney office for a most inspirational tour. Great stuff!

Tomorrow we'll finish programming the autonomous mode to take advantage of the bonus points that are available during the first 15 seconds and do a little more testing.

If you happen to be reading this before the event has finished, you can watch it live at...

On Friday morning, we're scheduled to compete at 10:00, 10:30, 10:45, 11:15, 11:45. In the afternoon, we're scheduled for 1:45, 2:15, 2:30, 3:00, 3:30.

Our robot is #7777, but your safest best is to look for the big black tube!