[Editor's note: At Adafruit we're having some FIRST robotics participants post up on Adafruit, Today's is from Harry - here's a quick note about him " I'm 17 years old, have been involved in FIRST LEGO League in various ways for 8 years. I'm currently a junior in college majoring in Physics, but will be transferring to a different school in the fall to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering. In my spare time I work on various Open Hardware projects, which can be found at https://github.com/hjohnson"]
Early on a Saturday morning (5:40 AM to be exact) a small group of dedicated volunteers, including me, arrived at a university’s field house. We moved quickly, setting up breakfast, making coffee, triple-checking our preparations, and taking a collective deep breath. We knew that in an hour, over 500 middle school students and their mentors would arrive, and that we’d be running on adrenaline for the next 12 hours. Such is the life of an inner-circle FIRST LEGO League event volunteer.
What a crowd! Above, teams compete while other teams are queued.
FIRST LEGO League is an international robotics competition for 9-14 year olds run by the organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen, of insulin pump and Segway fame. Teams of students build and program LEGO autonomous robots that compete on a standardized 4’ x 8’ table covered with LEGO field models. Since the theme of the competition this year was food safety, a typical mission would be for the robot to retrieve a truck filled with groceries, allowing the students to remove the groceries, load them onto their robot, and deliver them to a kitchen table. Teams have 2.5 minutes to rack up points completing as many tasks as possible, in any order. During the season, the teams also research a topic related to the year’s theme, and create a 5-minute presentation to discuss their results. Teams in the USA bring their robots and presentations to state and regional competitions in an effort to advance, either to the international World Festival held in St. Louis, or one of the FLL Open tournaments.
Teams who win awards also receive these LEGO trophies.
At our state tournament, judging started at around 7:30. Things were pretty quiet while the teams were in judging, but then at 11:30, everything ramped back up again. The 54 teams paraded into the main competition room, an indoor gym, complete with bleachers. Meanwhile, our group of referees huddled, going over last minute rule clarifications and making sure that any first-time referees were matched with veterans. We all wore the classic referee zebra shirts and carried pencils, clipboards, and scoring sheets. Some of us also wore silly hats to humanize us for the kids; I dislike goofy hats, so donned a top hat. At noon, the main spectator event began, a mass of music, excited shrieking students, and robots. At a given instant four teams would be on the clock, the kids jumping out of their seats as the robot worked, or sitting in crushed defeat when it didn’t. Meanwhile, at the other two tables, the referees scored the field with the teams, filling out checkboxes on a score sheet, getting them verified by the team, sending them to the scorekeepers, getting the current team out, resetting the field, and bringing the new team in. All in about 4 minutes. When my table was active, I had to keep a kindly but vigilant eye on the teams and their robots and enforce the robot game’s rules. These rules included: penalizing teams for touching the robot if it was anywhere but home base; noting field damage caused by errant robots; and correcting field damage caused by overexcited children; among many others.
Two members of a team preparing their robot.
Another team's robot in motion. Here, the green germ dispenser (that the robot is driving towards) has been actuated.
Me filling out a scoresheet with a team.
This whole cycle repeated until each of the teams had been run through 3 times, which took around 4 hours. By this point, I’d been on my feet on concrete for about 10 hours. We broke down all of the tables, packed them away, and sat in the bleachers to watch the final awards ceremony. Then, as teams filed out of the building, we finished cleaning up. Finally, at 6:00, we shuffled out of the building, exhausted but happy that we’d pulled off another tournament.
Kipp Bradford talks about his childhood LEGO projects at closing ceremonies.
It turned out to be an awesome build and I had lots of fun putting it together. I also chose it because it allows you to program your own clock “faces” for it. I’ve programmed a Space themed face for it that simulates the space station ground track. I’ve also programmed an autodim feature for the backlight because my preferred daylight brightness was too bright at night. The fact that I can customize it to fit my needs is an awesome thing. I wish there were more products like it.
NeTV Starter Pack! Get your NeTV on with this full pack that includes everything you need to start!
This complete kit contains:
NeTV PCB board and IR remote
NeTV plastic enclosure kit: This is the plastic enclosure for an NeTV PCB. This lovely little box is made of two injection molded halves, a soft rubber anti-slip bottom, and a small baggie of screws. Assembly is simple and only takes a few minutes. Attach the NeTV using the short screws to the bottom plate. Remove the paper backing from the antenna and stick to the underside of the top piece, then fit the large top over it and snap in place. Screw in the 4 longer screws from the bottom. Finish by applying the rubber mat piece to the bottom to hide the screws. You’re done!
NeTV is the first offering from the brand new Sutajio Ko-Usagi, the Open Source Hardware company led by “bunnie” Huang. bunnie is best known as the author of “Hacking the XBox” and was the lead hardware engineer of the chumby internet alarm clock. So, it is no surprise that his latest invention, conceived in chumby industries’ Singapore office and brought to you by Sutajio Ko-Usagi, is a fully open source HDTV peripheral which brings WiFi Internet
and Android mobile interfacing to any HDMI TV!
NeTV is available here in bare board form with an optional DIY plastics kit! This package does not have the enclosure fully assembled with the PCB, you will have to snap the NeTV into its case, a 5-10 minute task. This package contains the NeTV assembled and tested board, IR remote (to control the NeTV from your couch), a Micro-USB cable (to connect/power the NeTV), a 5V 1A USB power supply (to power the board), and an HDMI cable (to connect it to the HDTV)
The system also features a convenient HTTP API which uses POST commands to issue events to the screen and control device behavior. This, combined with zeroconf discoverability via Bonjour, makes integrating NeTV with other networked devices (such as your smartphone or laptop) a snap.
FPGA geeks take note! NeTV does video compositing with an FPGA. The FPGA is managed using a convenient set of built-in command-line tools. You can modify the NeTV’s video processing capability using Xilinx’s free Webkit development environment. Or, you can repurpose the FPGA for entirely new functionality; the sky’s the limit!
Summary of development environment options for NeTV:
Remote control using iOS/Android reference apps via HTTP API
Command line and kernel development via downloadable gcc environment, or via cloud-based “pre-built” Amazon EC2 environment.
Verilog/VHDL hardware development on FPGA via Xilinx Webpack tools
Solder-and-screws hardware development enabled via open source hardware stack
Great news! Thanks to Fabrizio, JP, all the KiCad developers and Adam – we will soon have a KiCad iron-on skill patch!
What is KiCad?
The KiCad EDA Suite project aims at creating a portable, cross-platform, Free/Libre/Open-Source EDA Suite. That is capable of schematic and printed circuit board design. The code is licensed under the terms of the GNU GPL. KiCad is an open source software suite for electronic design automation (EDA). It facilitates the design of schematics for electronic circuits and their conversion to PCBs (printed circuit board) design. KiCad was developed by Jean-Pierre Charras, and features an integrated environment for schematic capture and PCB layout design. Tools exist within the package to create a bill of materials, artwork and Gerber files, and 3D views of the PCB and its components.
By now, you’ve probably seen this article that Phil wrote over on MAKE about how to save the Post Office — one suggestion was that drone aircraft could be used to pick-up and deliver the mail. Though I personally don’t think it will save the Postal Service (assuming the tech existed, it could not be implemented quickly enough at this point), I still thought it was a pretty cool idea. It got me started thinking about these drone things and what they could be used for, so I made up a short list of ideas.
It is by no means exhaustive, and there are several advancements in the technology which would have to occur before the ideas can become reality, but the fun of dreaming about the future is looking passed the limitations of now. A lot of people talk about how drones will revolutionize warfare and surveillance — while definitely true, that’s not really my thing, so I decided instead to focus mostly on public health and safety. This is a partial list, but you can read the whole thing on my blog.
In the future, drones will…
… direct traffic: There is an accident or fuel spill or something on a highway. The police car rolls up: now the officer has to investigate the situation _and_ control/avoid the traffic at the same time, or wait for a second officer to show up. In the future, a drone — launched from the roof of a police car or emergency vehicle and equipped with a suspended blinky sign — will hover in place keeping traffic a safe distance away. The message on the sign will be remotely controlled by the officer (who can update it in real time) and it will tell you what’s going on: “keep to the left” or “slow down, accident ahead” or “oil on roadway: proceed with caution”, etc. They could also provide temporary traffic signals in the case of a power outage, where the regular stoplights might cease to function.
… help firefighters working structure fires: Drones will go airborne and scope out a burning building from above, allowing a bird’s eye view of the fire and helping track how it spreads. A camera (possibly IR) feed relayed to the ground will be useful in detecting an impending roof collapse or locating trapped survivors that the firefighters on the ground cannot see. These drones might also carry grappling hook ropes into position, to aid in either pulling a building down or providing an escape route. In addition, they will…
… be equipped with powerful lights. This can be used in emergency situations for lighting large, outdoor areas quickly. It can also be used by filmmakers and photographers to provide high-angle focused or diffused light sources. I can’t tell you how many shoots I’ve done where I wished for an easily positioned (and controllable) overhead light.
… transport clean water: one of the biggest problems in developing countries is the lack of fresh, clean water. Contaminated or dirty water causes all sorts of diseases, including dysentery, but often sources of clean water are a day’s walk away or more. Sometimes pipelines are not an option either, due to geography or other barriers. Water-bearing drones (“aquarians”) can be used to carry water from the clean sources to the people who need it.
… chase away birds at airports: birds getting sucked into jet engines poses a serious safety risk, particularly on takeoff and landing. This problem is currently dealt with by using decoys or actively hunting the birds. A squadron of drones could be useful flying around in pseudo-random low-level patterns and generally creating an unfriendly environment for the birds.
What do you get when you mix a bunch of creative kids with copper wire, glue guns, and dead toy parts? Roller-skating bears and a Two-Hump Wump, to name just a few things. More than 500 families registered for yesterday’s Open Make at San Francisco’s hands-on Exploratorium science museum. The event, a collaboration between the Exploratorium, Make magazine, and Pixar Animation Studios, was aimed at giving young makers a forum for learning new skills, collaborating with peers, and showing off their talents.
Germany with its manufacturing base and export prowess is the U.S. of yesteryear, an economic power unlike any of its European neighbors. It has thrived on principles America seems to have lost.
Their secret: little debt, frugal habits and a government that is intensely focused on high production, low inflation and extensive social services.
That has given them job security and good medical care as well as well-maintained roads, trains and bike paths. Both of their adult children are out on their own, thanks in part to Germany’s job-training system and heavy subsidies for university education.
For instance, Volkmar’s out-of-pocket costs for stomach surgery and 10 days in a hospital totaled just $13 a day. College tuition for their son runs about $260 a semester.
Germany, with its manufacturing base and export prowess, is the America of yesteryear, an economic power unlike any of itsEuropean neighbors. As the world’s fourth-largest economy, it has thrived on principles that the United States seems to have gradually lost.
Code Racer is a multi-player live coding game that teaches newbies how to code a basic website using HTML and CSS, and tests intermediate and advanced users on their coding speed and agility. Players race against each other and the clock to complete coding challenges, unlocking weapons and rewards along the way.
Treehouse looks really interesting, we like the way they’re using badges as learning tools.
In 2005, VC investment in clean tech measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The following year, it ballooned to $1.75 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association. By 2008, the year after Doerr’s speech, it had leaped to $4.1 billion. And the federal government followed. Through a mix of loans, subsidies, and tax breaks, it directed roughly $44.5 billion into the sector between late 2009 and late 2011. Avarice, altruism, and policy had aligned to fuel a spectacular boom.
Anyone who has heard the name Solyndra knows how this all panned out. Due to a confluence of factors—including fluctuating silicon prices, newly cheap natural gas, the 2008 financial crisis, China’s ascendant solar industry, and certain technological realities—the clean-tech bubble has burst, leaving us with a traditional energy infrastructure still overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels. The fallout has hit almost every niche in the clean-tech sector—wind, biofuels, electric cars, and fuel cells—but none more dramatically than solar.
The Postal service’s “estimate shipping” is down for first class international. There was a rate change and some API/tech changes over the weekend, we’re looking in to this now. We appreciate your patience while we look in to this!
Record time, and on a Sunday – we fixed this! They changed a few things so we needed to update our code to reflect their changes, everyone should be all set now. Thanks!