The robots are fighting

sumo botsSumo robots look great and a gladiatorial competition always has the kids’ spirits running on high. We had a robot sumo wrestling final last night which drove home to me the difference between robotics in primary school and high school.

When I’ve done this in previous years in primary school the approaches to robot building have been fairly consistent. With the kids now being older some interesting variations have crept in. There was a great deal of thinking in their approaches – not always it must be said well-thought through engineering, but certainly thinking. There was the low-built robot that aimed to slide under the opposition, there was the fork lifter and there was the one with lights.

The adults in the room were certain that the flashy build with lights, decorations and frills was certain to lose. It was all show. As it turned out it stomped all over the opposition. Luck or good design? We’ll never know. What is certain is that it was entertaining – that team even built a second robot to sit on the sidelines as a cheer-leader (or perhaps, as claimed by one of the other teams, an electronic warfare interference drone).

The other big difference in high school was the availability of a fully kitted-out workshop and materials. That lead to the creation of a wonderful, professional-looking arena for the bots to perform on.

But the final difference that occurs in a high school context is to question how much the kids involved actually got out of the experience. The jury is out on that one. Building the bots was a good lesson in teamwork and compromise in agreeing to, and fulfilling, a design. The actual programming, though, was fairly lightweight and arguably only made tough by some of the idiosyncrasies of Enchanting working with light sensors. I can’t help feeling that moving forward the limitations of the LEGO Mindstorms platform in terms of building-flexibility, depth of programming and price will mean looking at an alternative approach in this environment. The new Arduino robotics kit, for example, looks interesting.

Anyway, at the end of the day the kids had fun and built robots that wrestled and perhaps that’s all that’s really needed from an after-school activity.

reassuringCartoon image: XKCD.

One thought on “The robots are fighting

  • October 13, 2015 at 7:44 pm
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    I feel the same way – the way I did robotics in primary school was using the NXT lego kits, and we were only allowed to have 1 base design, which led to an honestly boring competition of who could be luckiest. In high school, we were allowed to use whatever design we wanted, but the fact that everyone used the same motors and tires meant that we all had to really think to gain an advantage. I certainly enjoyed the robots that did have more original designs (mine had a forklift-style cage over the front that flipped on a big gearbox) but it really is a very limiting platform because of the locked components that mean you need lego parts. I actually made my own arduino robot based on the pololu rp5 treaded bot base for 1/4 of the price yet won every contest it went in! as well as this, the arduino IDE (basically C++) uses no limits, meaning I could have dramatically faster response in my code, and actual coding (in my opinion) would be far better and more relevant to teach kids these days rather than tile based programs.

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