FTC Robots - Saturday 30 August

, posted: 29-Aug-2014 09:24

I have blogged before about the FIRST family of robotics program for students.

The New Zealand Annual FTC competition is being held on Saturday at ACG Strathallan. The finals happen between 1 pm and 3 pm although the competition will be running all day. Entry is free so come along and see some cool robots competing.

FTC (First Tech Challenge) is a robotics program for years 7 to 12 and bridges the gap between First Lego League using lego robots and FRC with big robots.

FTC uses metal components and focuses on engineering and programming skills.

Students who participate in the program:
  • Design, build, and program robots
  • Apply real-world math and science concepts
  • Develop problem-solving, organizational, and team-building skills
  • Compete and cooperate in alliances and tournaments
  • Compete for a spot in the World Championship
robot




Robofest - Christchurch 29 June

, posted: 14-Jun-2014 10:46

Robofest is a robot competition for Christchurch school children in years 5 to 8.

It is a one day competition held at Russley School.

As a more casual competition than First Lego League (which can be pretty full on!) it is a great opportunity for kids new to robotics to come along and get involved.

Teams are 2 to 4 members and all you need is an NXT robot. A standard robot build will do the trick: http://www.nxtprograms.com/castor_bot/steps.html

Team Antimatter will be there with their World Festival robot and will be giving demos of the 2013 FLL Natures Fury challenge. We may even have some Twirly Whirlys to give away. Team Antimatter are up for the Sumo challenge.

So! Grab a robot and some keen kids and we will see you there.

More info can be found here: http://robofest.weebly.com/

1397263024



Kids, Science, Robots and Pizza

, posted: 10-Apr-2014 10:33

FIRST LEGO League

I have been meaning to write this post for a while but the time just flies by!

For the last four years my two sons James and Tim have been competing in FIRST LEGO League (FLL). FLL is a competition for kids aged 9 to 16 years. It consists of four parts. Teams can be large or small (from 2 to 10 members)

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded by Dean Kamen of  DEKA Research.  You may recognize his name. He invented the Segway (among other things). He is an amazing guy.

FLL is an event held annually which consists of four parts:

  1. Robot Design
  2. Robot Competition
  3. Project (more on this later)
  4. Teamwork.

FLL focuses around a set of core values. The Core Values are:

  • We are a team
  • We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors
  • We know our coaches and mentors don't have all the answers; we learn together.
  • We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
  • What we discover is more important than what we win.
  • We share our experiences with others.
  • We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.
  • We have FUN!

As you can see these core values promote friendly competition and working as a team.

Every year the competition has a theme. The robot competition and project are based around this theme. The competition is released in August each year and competitions run through November. It is a short but intense season as a lot of work is required in a short time frame.

The Project: Each team must complete some research and identify a problem based around the theme. They then must find an “innovative solution” to that problem. The research can end up being very detailed.

The Robot: Robots are built exclusively with lego. They are based on LEGO mindstorms kits and can contain any lego elements. The robot design is entirely up to the team. The type of robot can be determined by the competition map and what type of “missions” need to be completed. The team determine what type of wheels or tracks the robot will have. Their imagination is the limit!

New teams tend to spend lots of time on the robot at the expense of the project. The robot is exciting and it is lots of fun trying to work out the best methods of completing missions. The robot is actually worth only half of the teams “score” during the competition. During match day the team is scored on Robot Design, Robot match points, Project and finally Core Values (teamwork). As the project and teamwork make up half the points the team should ensure they “gel” as a team. Quite often in a team some of the members will enjoy the project research and presentation more than the robot and this works well as all aspects of the competition are covered. The team is judged on all aspects of the competition using a set of rubrics: http://www.firstlegoleague.org/event/judging

Match day is an exciting and nerve racking time for all teams. The one limitation with Lego Mindstorms robotics is that the robot is held together with plastic pegs, battery voltage varies, the motors have limitations when “syncing” and as the robot gets further away from base the accuracy decreases. Experienced teams spend a lot of time trying to improve the accuracy of the robot. Techniques include using light sensors to detect lines, squaring the robot up on walls and ensuring that the robot is nicely balanced. Despite using these techniques robots tend to be unreliable. Even small light changes or table setup differences (which in theory should be identical) can mean the robot doesn’t detect a line or drives slightly off track and a whole mission is a “fail”.

Despite all this the atmosphere at an FLL event is amazing. The whole event oozes positivity. As the kids all embrace the FLL core values there is a sense of shared learning and teamwork (even among competing teams - yep friendly co-opertition.).

The culmination of the event is the awards ceremony. All participants receive a medal and a significant number of teams receive awards.

FIRST has a staggering reach worldwide. Some figures:

Overall Reach - All Programs Combined (projected for the 2013/14 season)

  • 350,000+ students
  • 32,600 teams

  • 28,800 robots

  • 64,000+ Mentors/adult supporters

  • 66,000+ other Volunteers (e.g. event Volunteers, Affiliate Partners, VISTAs)


In 2013 Tim’s team (Team Antimatter) won the New Zealand Champions Award. This means the team is invited to compete in the FIRST World Festival which is held annually in St Louis, USA. The FIRST Championship is a huge event which includes over 10,000 students from over 30 countries and 2,800 Adult coaches, mentors and supporters.
FIRST World Festival
You can follow Team Antimatters progress at: http://www.teamantimatter.com or on twitter @teamantimatter or on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/teamantimatter.

To find out more about FIRST have a squizz through http://www3.usfirst.org/. You can keep an eye out for events in New Zealand at http://www.kiwifirst.org.

Finally, the FIRST programmes are a lot of hard work and require dedication from both parents and kids however the fun learning and positive atmosphere make for some amazing rewards.

Volunteering

The FIRST family of events are also not just about the kids. FIRST are always looking for volunteers from a variety of walks of life. Look out for the events and get involved!

See you at a FIRST event! Matt.



So.. What to do with all the devices in the drawer

, posted: 7-Feb-2013 15:05

So...

It is very frustrating to try and find the right device buried in the drawer under the chargers and USB cables.

I don't see why it is an issue to have the laptop on the dining table and the tablet on the coffee table but that is an argument for another day....

So, off to Warehouse Stationery I go and get one of these:



I managed to turn it into this:



So, now it holds all the devices where they are easy to get at. I was a bit concerned at the way the kids threw the laptop back in the holder so I hot glue gunned some neoprene that was lying around to the bottom bar.

A word of caution: It only works with slim laptops!

Now I am wondering if I have too many devices.....



Google rings in the changes for Google Apps

, posted: 29-Apr-2011 11:16

If you have been considering free google apps for some time now may be the time to jump. Google have just announced a raft of changes to their free offering.Google Apps

For those that run their own domain Google Apps integrates applications and email services with your domain. I have been using the free service for some time now and love the fact that all my email from the last few years is available on demand. The search function means that if I need to find any email I have sent or received is instantly available.

Google apps free edition in the past has offered 50 accounts (in effect 50 gmail accounts) for free. If you required more than then you are required to pay $50 USD per account per year in advance.

The new changes mean that free accounts will be limited to a maximum of 10 email accounts. While this will probably be plenty for most people if you sign up before May 10 you should still be able to grab google apps with 50 users. Existing free Google Apps with 50 accounts are grandfathered.

Google are also introducing a $5 per month per user option with the ability to add and remove users at will and be charged accordingly. This is a welcome addition.

The killer feature missing from Apps currently is a mix of free and paid accounts within one domain. The ability to have one user with Apps for business while having other users on a free version would be a real winner for organisations.

You can read more about the Google Apps changes here



2011 Tablets and the Archos 101 internet tablet

, posted: 6-Jan-2011 16:46

2011 is going to see every manufacturer who can buy an LCD put tablets in the market.

Samsung have the lead in the alternatives to the ipad but some other interesting tablets are going to make an appearance.

The Notion Ink Adam is finally on preorder and has been a long time in coming. Notion Ink is a startup from India and it will be interesting to see how the Adam goes particularly with the Pixel Qi screen.

The Toshiba and RIM tablets also show promise.

In the meantime tablets are thin on the ground unless you have the cash for an ipad or Galaxy tab (although the Galaxy tab should be cheaper now that a non-3g option is available) or are after a cheap chinese device that are prolific on trademe and dealextreme.com

Archos are a French company generally known for their media players. They have had an Android tablet in the Archos 7 for a while now and are now on to their second generation of Android tablets. They have five in their line up and these are known as the gen 8 archos tablets. The two that are attracting the most interest are the Archos 70 and Archos 101.

The Archos 70 is a 7" tablet and is most notable for the option of a 250 gb hard drive. The Archos 101 is a 10" tablet and comes in 8 gb and 16 gb flavours.

All the gen 8 tablets run Android Froyo which took a while to come to the gen 8's after Archos initially said they would ship with Froyo. It came as a firmware update in early December.

Archos 101 and Samsung Galaxy SpicaI ordered an Archos 101 in mid December from http://www.amazon.com and landed it in New Zealand for $530 NZD. Availablity has been up and down as there has been high demand. After scouring the internet it appears that http://www.globalcommunication.co.nz are the distributors for New Zealand however, there is no mention on their website or on http://www.cvscomputing.co.nz of availability so yet again with most of these things New Zealand is a late comer to the party.

There is plenty of information on the net about the Archos products. It is mainly available at http://forum.archosfans.com.PDF on Archos 101

I have found the Archos 101 a great device for sitting on the coffee table. It is a lot lighter than the ipad and is very easy to hold for long periods of time. It has been getting a thrashing since the big Christmas day opening (Angry birds is the game of choice). Angry Birds looks spectacular on the Archos 101. It was almost worth the purchase just for the Angry Birds experience!

One of the other reasons I purchased it is to hold my manuals for work on (around 3000 pages of PDF documents). I haven't really sat down for some serious reading but with ezpdf it looks it will fit the bill nicely.

My pros and cons:

Pros:
- Very thin and light!
- Runs froyo
- Good battery life (it is hard to see what kind of battery life it will have long term but gets two days with very heavy use)
- Capacitive display
- Micro SD slot and USB ports for expandability

Cons:
- Screen angles could be better. The optimum screen viewing angle is great when in landscape mode but slightly off centre when in portrait mode.
- Only 256 MB RAM which could affect future Android firmware upgrades.
- Won't tether to my android phone in wifi adhoc mode.


The big unknown for the Archos 101 is that with only 256 MB of RAM whether Android Honeycomb (tablet optimised) will come to the Archos Gen 8 tablets.

As 2011 progresses tablet prices should come down and it should become clear which manufacturers have the tablet goods but if you have some cash now and are looking for a tablet that does not cost the moon the Archos 101 is a good choice (providing you can find a stockist). It really is a shame that distributors are not more proactive in bringing some of these products to New Zealand. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is an example of such a product.

If you are after a tablet and can wait then 2011 will bring a load of choice!


Matt Harrington
http://www.expandit.co.nz



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Matt Harrington
Auckland
New Zealand






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