RoboMaxx 2 report & photo / video gallery

(Hopefully this will become a habit every time Solarbotics does an event)
http://www.solarbotics.net/gallery/RoboMaxx2
We just put a photo gallery of our latest trip - RoboMaxx II in Southern Oregon. Their event was under-attended, with several vendors backing out at the last minute, and competitor registration a bit weak but satisfactory for a well-rounded event, but still, they have the equipment for 1st-rate events!
A huge rear-projection screen fed via 3 videocams let everybody have a great view of the action, and their very professional sumo-stage (black and red - very sharp) was well used for the Japanese, Mini, Micro, and Nano sumo events.
Held at the Grants Pass Fairgrounds, we were in a nice, large open room. The first day's highlight was the rental combat-robot arena, where you could buy time bashing combat robots. No, I didn't participate, as I was too busy with other stuff.
Jon Peterman put together some pre-assembled solarengines, and had $6 workshops building Symets. This was definitely a labour of love, and he spent most of the weekend helping kids with their projects.
I bumped into a few LANL workshop alumni, like Casey Holmes, and ...(sorry, name slipped my mind!). They were mainly working on micro and nanosumo robots, which are really coming along, and quite impressive in speed and capability. It's that whole size/mass thing. You can drop a bug 2 flights and it bounces and runs away, but try that with a <insert least-favourite mammal here>.
We hung out with Al Margolis at his booth, hobbyengineering.com for most of the event. He was the first (well, him and Steve Jones of Bug'n'bots) to see the Sumovore kit in person. Hold tight, we'll have it online in the next day or so. I've got some documentation tweaks to make first.
Speaking of mini-sumo, StrongBad did it again, winning 1st place against the legendary Goliath in a 2-1 match. Sumovore did pretty decent too, until it had to meet up against StrongBad. Check out the video sub-gallery to see the results.
We nosed around the Parallax and Junun booths too. They've both got some pretty snazzy stuff in. There were a squadron of Parallax Toddlers with bluetooth communication for synchronized "marching band" movements, and Junun has some new cool Sharp IR distal sensors. So did the MegaBitty guys (cool IR distal sensors, that is).
That's about it for now. Feel free to leave comments on the gallery!
Regards, Dave (the weary traveller) Hrynkiw
See you in Edmonton next week, and Seattle in 2 weeks!
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Dave Hrynkiw wrote:

I'm hearing this is becoming something of a trend. Any idea why? Seasonality, perhaps? Too many shows?
-- Gordon Author: Constructing Robot Bases (Forthcoming) Robot Builder's Sourcebook, Robot Builder's Bonanza
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I've been attending robotics events for about 10 years now, and it's a question I'm asking myself too. Not just vendors backing out, but the whole interest/public involvement issue, which could be very much be due to too many shows.
As a vendor, we get invited to a number of shows a year, and one of our main criteria is how many of our past customers will be in attendance. It's important to us to meet face-to-face with our clients to see what they like and dislike. It's always nice to cultivate new interest in robotics, but I've noticed a decline in public interest for robot-related events.
Perhaps Battlebots/Robotica/Robot Wars has satisfied the public's curiosity for robotics since the landing of the Sojourner on Mars? I noted a sudden surge of interest in 99/2000, but I've yet to be at an event that has matched or surpassed the original BEAM games I attended in Toronto in 1992, when it was the heyday of Brooks' Ghengis and Attila, and there were practically no centralized robot competitions.
That said, homogenous robot events like USFirst Battlebots, and Trinity Fire-Fighter still have very robust attendance. I wonder what the attendance figures are for competitors vs. public looky-loos at these sorts of events?
I hate to say it, but I'm starting to think that multi-event robot contests are a dead-end. I'm about ready to put effort into again just getting groups of buddies together for annual build-fests, tequila-drinking, and movie-watching. These week-long build-fests have historically been personally much more fulfilling and educational than any robotics event I've ever attended.
Ponderingly (?) yours, Dave
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Dave, Much to agree with here. I'm seeing the same thing from my vantage point. I think there are three (no, four; no five) major issues here:
1. We haven't had any "startingly" major new development in quite a while. By major I mean something like a microcontroller, the Basic Stamp (God bless Parallax), the serial LCD, the LEGO RCX, that sort of thing. I have to yawn every time a new Sharp IR sensor gets introduced. Bluetooth, MEGAbitty, and other recent innovations are way-cool, but I don't think they are enough -- by themselves -- to propel major interest.
2. The battle robots might have not only quenched the public's thirst in robotics, but doused it. Week after week, game after game, they became all the same. It may have been compelling to the combatants, but I think the producers of these shows seriously overestimated the public's long-term interest quotient. Well, anyway, most of the TV shows are history so this is now a moot point.
3. General down-turn in the economy. I saw a 35+ percent drop in book sales right after 9/11, and it never has rebounded. I think A) people are rightfully concerned about their money and B) they've limited their interests until they feel they have the financial freedom to "play" once again.
4. Personally I'm not too keen on the "every robotic event has to be a competition" idea. Some folks at my local user group recently suggested that every monthly meeting should have some form of competition. Yes, they can be exiciting, but in my experience the same people tend to win these competitions. And from my perspective, one of the key benefits of the groups is to encourage new attendees. That's not as likely if newbies feel they have to compete just to participate.
So in other words, while RoboMaxx looked like a great show, from the photos much of it appeared to be competition-based. I was delighted by the photos and video of Dan showing his new walker. THAT is what is worthwhile to me. People sharing, talking, showing off, sharing, teaching, talking... Personally, I couldn't care less about the nth mini-sumo competition. I've done some, seen a lot, and am ready to move on. (But this is just me. I realize others may be different. I *do* like some competitions, mind you just not the heavy emphasis placed on them these days. Of course, things are different with the competition-specific events, like Trinity.)
5. No one is stirring the pot, causing controversy. Whether you agreed with Brooks or Tilden, they made people TALK to one another, and share their ideas. Tilden now seems to be involved in toys (good for him); Brooks long ago stopped publishing, and now appears to be engrossed with iRobot, where he may not want to share his concepts with other people.
So, with this last item in mind, let me start some controversy: I think anyone who builds robots is a Communist sissy with the IQ of Gumby. What do you say about *that*!
-- Gordon Author: Constructing Robot Bases (Forthcoming) Robot Builder's Sourcebook, Robot Builder's Bonanza
Dave Hrynkiw wrote:

<rest snipped>
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Gordon,
One member of the Twin Cities Robot group <tcrg.org> almost INSISTS that all our organized activitied be "challenges" instead of "competitions".
I have disagreed in the past, but after a year or so, I'm seeing the light in having it be a personal challenge rather than a one-on-one competition.
THe new members can feel accomplished just by getting motors bolted to a board and running the thing with switches and a battery pack, and we all clap and then they are hooked.
So, I'm in agreement now.
-Alan
--
- Alan Kilian <alank(at)timelogic.com>
Bioinformatics Applications Director, TimeLogic Corporation
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Alan Kilian wrote:

I too think this works if there's a conscious decision to maintain the "learning atmosphere." I think it takes discipline to do this, though.
Another group local to me is pondering where they want to go with monthly classes -- the fellow who has been doing the classes is thinking about retiring after three years, and among the new ideas being floated are an MIT 6.825 study group, maybe one for the ER-1, and a beginner's level round-about. It would be great if they could do all three!
Perhaps concurrent with our discussing these issues, others have come to the same general conclusion: that a great deal of this hobby is the community, and the competitions are but one way to express that community. I like Dave's idea of a week-long tequila-fest...I mean, robot build-fest. Yeah, that's what I meant. <g>
-- Gordon Author: Constructing Robot Bases (Forthcoming) Robot Builder's Sourcebook, Robot Builder's Bonanza
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Alan Kilian wrote:

Gordon, Alan:
I'd like to reinforce some comments that Alan has made...
The Home Brew Robotics Club (HBRC) in San Jose has recently switched over to the challenge format and has had a huge increase in the number of robots actually showing up at the club meetings. The challenges start easy and get progressively harder.
Challenge 1: Build a robot that can start at one end of a table, go to the other end, and return, without falling off the table.
Challenge 2: Build a robot that can find an object on the table and push it off.
(By the way, these particular challenges were cooked up by a club member named Camp Peavy.)
The other thing that has occured is that more and more people are forming small teams to work on interesting projects. One such collaboration has resulted in a very interesting two wheeled balancing robot. Mini-teams that are cooperative rather than competitive seem to be a good idea as well.
My $.02,
-Wayne
P.S. To contact me directly -- Wayne AT Gramlich DOT Net.
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I would love to catch up with Camp, as I haven't seen him since Robot Wars '97. Could you please forward him my Email contact? snipped-for-privacy@nutsvolts.com
Thanks!
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Dave,
I'm COMPLETELY in agreement here. We have several guys that meet at my house EVERY friday for Kilian;s Robot Shop of Horrors, and it's the most educational thing I have ever done. The web site is HORRIBLY out of date, but here's what we do: <http://www.infinetivity.com/~jsampson/rsoh/ So, let the community know whey you are planning another one, if you can spare a slice of livingroom floor, or tent-space, I'd love to come further North than Minnesota, and I can probably talk some of the locals into attending also. -Alan
--
- Alan Kilian <alank(at)timelogic.com>
Bioinformatics Applications Director, TimeLogic Corporation
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snipped-for-privacy@raceme.UUCP says...

DANG, how much tequila do you think there *is* in Canada, anyways?!? (Bah - you'd probably enjoy the beer better anyway...)
Regards, Dave
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What a great name for a robot!

looky-loos
I know that at FIRST events it's mostly fellow school students and parents, sadly. Even at the nationals this is the case.
Dan
PS: Hi Dave!
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Stolen from a online flash cartoon character. I heard the name from a friend who was familiar with http://www.homestarrunner.com (I've since learned to appreciate the "StrongBad emails" - worth a chuckle).

Hmmm. Seems to support cranking up the "Buddy RoboBuild" concept again...

Hi Dan! How goes "Servo" magazine? Gonna be in Seattle next week?
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Issue #1 of Servo should be on the stands Nov. 1st. BTW we have a couple of pages set aside to feature pictures of robots the community has built, along with a short blurb on what it does and a URL/E-mail address. Everyone is invited to get their work showcased. Submit a 300 DPI JPG and the text to snipped-for-privacy@servomagazine.com
I can't make it up next week, too much going on down here. 2004 should be a lot easier to get out, though. Maybe I'll see you at the RSA gig early next year, back in SF?
Dan
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Don't know about elsewhere, but the FIRST state finals here in Oregon are closed to the public. The venue is packed with students and invited guests as it is!
Warren
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Are you sure that is FIRST? Their website doesn't list an Oregon regional and I've never heard about *any* regional being closed to the public. But if so - they need to move to a bigger event center!
Dan
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According to their web page, the 2003 Oregon FIRST Lego League tournament had 140 teams with 1,000 entrants. The Clackamas High School gym was quite packed.
Describing it as "closed to the public" is perhaps a little strong. If someone was aware it was happening and wanted to see it, they probably could have gotten in. But it isn't promoted to the public other than same-day media coverage.
Photos and videos of the event are at http://www.ortop.org /
Warren
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