VEX Worlds 2017 – Robotics Competition

Sorry for the late post about VEX Worlds, I thought I would have more time after worlds to catch up with stuff, sadly (well not really), the kids have been mega active.  My eldest son played his first football tournament, had a holiday, lots of family stuff!

So, VEX Worlds, what an amazing experience, I went along for the VEX EDR side of the competition (this year it was split EDR / IQ) as I was showing off the EDR Tank.  Sadly I had to leave the US early as my son, Max was ill.  Still a very cool experience!

So, the EDR tank, well it performed really really well in remote control mode.  I mean the thing was fairly slow but must have covered MILES!  The batteries never died on me, nor did any motors!  I did kill a few Omniwheels, however, that’s to be expected.   Even though I left early, the EDR tank did not and so others drove it around.  I have not received it back yet to see how bad it is now, but I am sure it will be fine.

The autonomous side was a bit of a failure, to be honest, and looking back I had set up myself to fail and I will explain why.  The autonomous side was using ROS (Robotic operating system) which is an industry standard.  I was using a Neato Lidar system which is awesome however it only had a range of 5 meters and SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) to work out where I was, and where I needed to go via building up a map.  SLAM works by detecting features of the surrounding area to work out where it is.  When you’re in a hall that’s hundreds of meters wide with very little features, a sensor with a range of 5 meters is practically useless.  In the end, I just showed kids how it worked on my laptop using RVIZ.  If I had to do this properly I would need to invest in a proper LIDAR system with a much greater range.  Another aspect which makes this very hard is all the people moving around, how can SLAM pick up features if they are constantly moving!

Overall, the EDR tank was hugely popular, I gave tons of fist bumps, high fives, etc, people just thought it was cool, just a little slow.

Next year, if I did a vehicle again, I would have to make it a lot faster and forget about advance sensors etc!

Here are some videos of VEX World and the EDR TANK:

Robot making schoolgirls set for world championships

Nothing made me happier to see a BBC article about these 2 school girls.  They have qualified to go to VEX Worlds next month which is held in the US to compete against 500 other teams from all over the world.

I have been lucky enough to meet these two (aged 8 and 9) a few times when I have been a VEX Judge.   They are extremely talented bright kids for their age.  Each time I have met them, they have walked away with an award!

For the full details please check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-39410855

New Toy : Shapeoko 2 CNC Machine

It’s my birthday very soon and so I decided that the main robotic making tool I was missing was a CNC machine 🙂  A friend of mine had a Shapeoko 2 which he no longer needed and so I felt it was only right to steal it from him 🙂  The cool thing is, he builds robots to, really cool ones 🙂

Many people like my wife, family, friends have asked me what I am going to do with it, that’s a question that I am still working on.  It can make custom PCB’s which could be cool if I finally build and release a custom robot for people (a plan I do hope to do this year), also, I could use it to cut out parts to make robots, this seems like the logical answer.  All I know currently is it looks fricking cool and spins really really fast 🙂 Watch this space!

 

 

 

This weeks update :) Big Bang, VEX Worlds.

So, last week I was at the Big Bang Science Fair, I was asked to be a judge for the VEX Robotics National Championship 🙂


I also managed to get VEX the VEX Tank ready to ship it to the US for VEX WORLDS, build-wise, it’s complete, software wise, it’s not 🙁

My flights have been booked for VEX WORLD for next month, so full speed ahead to finish the software!  Anyone know ROS?

 

Big Bang Science Fair 2017 @ the NEC

Every year the VEX National Robotics Championship is held at the Big Bang Science Fair.  This takes place at the Birmingham NEC in March.  Last year I attended as a VEXIQ superuser showing off my VEXIQ Skateboard, this year I have been asked to be a VEXIQ Judge under O2 who I work for.  I have done judging a few times, and it is such a great experience, you get to meet some super cool kids who make the most impressive robots.  It is also brilliant that my work (O2) support this, they really have a mission to help out kids.

Anyway, I will do a full write-up of the event, once it happens 🙂  Please check out The Big Bang Fair.co.uk/

 

 

The VEX EDR Tank

Over the last few month’s, I have been building a vehicle out of VEX EDR with the aim of it to self-drive. This is my first big project with VEX EDR, I usually build large stuff out of LEGO Mindstorms or VEXIQ. My view was that VEX EDR would be easier as it is a) made out of metal as opposed to plastic, and b) more powerful. I thought it would take me a week to make the vehicle, and the rest of the time would be on software. I had to also learn ROS (Robotic Operating System).

It actually turned out more challenging than I expected. Due to my lack of experience with EDR, I just assumed metal would just be stronger, and the motors would just work. However the first version of the Tank collapsed under my weight, and it took around 10 versions to get it to move me (95kg) without the motors shutting down after 5 seconds. Unlike LEGO and VEXIQ, EDR motors had a protection circuit in (PTC) which shut down the motor if it gets too hot or draws too much power. This is, of course, a good feature to protect the motor, however, it made my project very difficult.

I went from 8 motors, direct drive to 14 motors geared down to 2.44. The 8 motors could move me at a rapid speed but would just shut down after a few second.

Here is the progress of how it went

Current state

So I managed to get the Tank to a point where it worked, it was not as fast as I hoped however it seems reliable.  Next is the software.  ROS is a big subject to learn, there are lot of books on it and it is not the easiest thing to learn.  I have actually made some good progress on this thanks to the community.  Stay tuned to my next post about ROS.

 

 

Mr Purple : VEX SMART RADIO : VEX WORLD FINALS 2016

So, the first part of this year, I have been swamped with VEX stuff to do, it’s been pretty good fun actually.  I now have lot’s of VEX EDR (the metal stuff) to play with.  Very excited about that!  I have also been invited to VEX World Finals in the US!  The aim is to build some smartphone controlled robots that show off the power of the Smart Radio. Thanks to Xander and RobotC it is now possible to do 2 way communication between VEXIQ and iOS

Code is here! https://github.com/burf2000/VEXIQ_iOS_ROBOTC

Anyway, so MR PURPLE, I went in to the garage, I came out with MR PURPLE.  3  DOF per arm and his head moves!  Super happy with him

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VEX and the Big Bang Science Fair

So I have been asked by VEX Robotics to build 2 small robotics for Big Bang Science show at the NEC.  The 2 robotics will be on stage as helpers.  It’s a super fun idea, focus is reliability!  The robots need telescopic arms to push buttons and be able to push out a bottle of water from their chests.

Here are 2 initial videos I did showing progression

I actually got to see the robots on stage and they worked perfectly!

What I enjoyed about this was trying to make VEX stuff look cool, it’s actually harder than it is with LEGO 🙂

 

 

LEGO Humanoid Diary : Part 1- 3

So, this year my main LEGO Project is a large LEGO Humanoid, one that can see items, point to them, talk and listen.  It will take me a while to build and I am already massively behind on it due to VEX projects.  But here is how I am doing so far

I have already overcome some issues.  The hole in the chest is for a tablet.  The project needs to be complete for July

 

Book Review : Hacking Your Lego Mindstorms EV3 Kit by John Baichtal

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I have known John for a few years now due to him doing a write up on my LEGO Wheelchair for Make, back then he was working on a book that covered using LEGO and Arduino’s together, called Make: Lego and Arduino Projects: Projects for extending MINDSTORMS NXT with open-source electronics.  It’s a fantastic book!

His new book, Hacking Your Lego Mindstorms EV3 is on a similar theme but of course for the EV3, not the NXT.  It also covers making your own parts via 3D Printing and Laser cutting which I found very useful.

The book features nice colourful based instructions to build 5 projects and then how to hack each one (e.g change the EV3 for a Arduino or Pi).  Like the previous book, this book uses products from Wayne and Layne e.g the Bricktronic Shield however also includes hacks / projects using the Raspberry Pi. I would of liked to have seen the introduction to Electronics chapter added to this book which exists in the previous book.  I believe this book is more designed for beginners than the previous book.

If you own a EV3 and want to take it to the next step by using another controller, this book is a very good introduction for you.