For teachers FAQ
What is RoboCon?
Robocon is a free to enter robotics competition aimed at Yr9-11 students with limited previous coding or practical construction experience.
What is the aim?
By the end of the season, students will have built and programmed a totally autonomous robot to compete in a 2-day final event. The only interaction the students have with the robot during the competition rounds is to push the "GO" button, partially this is done for safety reasons, but mostly because it matches the real world of software more accurately. The team can see their logs and what the robot can see while the robot is running but there is no remote control.
Won't this be really hard?
For an example of a robot built entirely from the kit provided, assembled and programmed in one day by our Lower Sixth as part of our dry-run testing here is a video.
What are the dates for the competition?
We haven't finalized a date yet for kickoff, right now it seems either 17th November or 1st December are likely candidates. The final is probably going to be over a weekend in April.
What will the Kickoff consist of?
The kickoff includes a workshop event where teams are tasked with performing a set of basic software challenges which will see each function of the supplied kit exercised. Its not essential that teams come to the kickoff, but we would highly recommend it. Last year we had a few "teacher only" visitors, and a couple of schools that asked for the kit to be mailed out. Whilst these schools found it harder to get started, most made it to the competition with a working robot.
What if our robot doesn't work during the final?
The running order for the final allows teams to improve on their code in real time, fixing problems they hadn't encountered through testing as well as modifying their strategies once they have seen the other teams. We provide a "test arena" for development in the team area. Last year each robot got around 15 turns in the main arena, so there is plenty of opportunity for improvement before it really matters in the knockout stages of the second day.
How much work will I have to put in over the 5 months?
You need not put in too much work, especially not throughout the allocated time. Frequently the best performing robots come from the simplest designs and we anticipate most schools completing this in weekly science clubs or similar.
Can we compete if we don't have any spare IT at our school?
At the kickoff event we provide a kit which includes a Windows based tablet which connects wirelessly direct to the robot for programming and debug. The tablet is pre-installed with everything you need to program the robot. You may need access to the internet from a separate device to contact our on-line helpdesk, and the occasional check for blog updates from the Robocon Team but otherwise you don't need anything from your IT. The website is mobile-friendly for students who have their own smart phones.
What else is in the kit?
The center of the kit is a "Brain Box" which contains the computing and vision module, and is everything needed to run two substantial DC motors and up to four servos. It also offers some digital and analog IO to control optional additional external circuitry. Most teams will not use the ability to extend the electronics although for more adventurous teams, as the kit is Raspberry PI based, generic tutorials for how to attach any USB, UART or I2C device to a PI can be found on line. We provide guidance for the most common simple tasks that students might their robot to perform. eg. how to run a high current device like a pump.
We also include in the kit a basic robot chassis with two small DC motors, wheels and a small servo.
How do the students program their robot?
Software wise we have developed a python library which greatly reduces the complexity of using the kit including all the computer vision. Coding can all be done on the tablet provided.
Python is not accessible to all my students. Can they still join in?
We provide both a python and a scratch-like interface, so those who might find python intimidating are not excluded. If you have students who would rather use their own editor, laptop or phone to develop and upload code then this is also possible.
What is the cost of entry?
The competition is free to enter and the basic kit will be provided. All we ask is that we get the original kit of parts returned.
How much will we need to spend on a Robot?
We put no restriction on how teams add to the components in the kit to realize their robots. The intention is that teams could field a basic robot with little more than the kit, and competitive robot using only additional materials available in an Art or DT classroom or parents garage.
What resources are useful?
However if resources are available, teams will probably benefit from e.g. more substantial servos for whatever manipulation is required. Last year 3d printed parts and vacuum cups were popular additions with some teams. We can help with advice on buying additional parts and they don't have to be expensive if brought through the right channels. As an example, eBay vendors are selling packs of four servos for £6. In general, additions can be brought quite cheaply especially if students plan ahead and are prepared to wait for shipping. There is deliberately time in the schedule to allow for this.
Will we still be able to compete with a low cost robot?
Yes, absolutely; don't let this put you off, the simplest robots are frequently the best because they have less to go wrong and teams can focus on programming and testing.
How will you help us?
We will be offering the following assistance to enable teams to be successful
- Tutorials at the kickoff
- Online support through our forums, blog and documentation.
- Email support for Teacher questions
- Saturday drop in sessions at Hills Road