Robotic hobbiests -- SUB $1000 challenge?

My first job in the '80s was Denning Mobile Robotics. Since before that time I was a robot fanitic. (Admittedly, that's how I got the job.) Since then,
I've started and abandoned my own robot many times over the years.
I was thinking that it would be cool, and give some people an excuse to start or stay focused, to create a contest (open to the public, not universities and corporations) where there needs to be some clear cut task that the robot must be able to accomplish, a good set of rules, and lastly, a sub $1000 price tag on the robot.
No corporate sponsorships allowed, no university groups with well stocked labs and parts cabinets, just plain old hobbiests with know-how and ingenuity.
Is anyone game?
What would be a good task? Is $1000 too much? What's a good time frame? (Probably based on the task.) Do we need a prize, other than something like a trophy?
What kind of rules? We need to keep it fair. Not everyone has access to company or university (or even highschools) development resources, so those should be off limits.
All your equipment has to be privately owned by member of your team. No sponsorships. Less than $1000 in parts. Parts donated will be have the full retail price counted in the cost of the robot. (If you can get the parts for free, that's cool, but it shouldn't give you an unfair advantage.)
What else?
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mlw wrote:

I like this. I might even suggest a lower price tag with no kits allowed.

I agree with the no sponsorships, but I think that including universities under the same regulations as private individuals/teams would be a good thing.
For example, I probably have a parts cabinet that might be as good as a university's for this sort of thing.

If there were such a competition I might throw something together.

Of course. Now that can be produced/helped by corporate sponsorship.

Again, I think that schools are important to include. There are few enough opportunities for people to use inventive skills. And individuals can get access to all sorts of tools if they try hard enough.
And to be honest, small robots can be built with few tools. Add points for creative budgeting.

I think this is a *really* bad idea. Some people have more tools than a university; some have few.

I do like these rules. -- D. Jay Newman
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D. Jay Newman wrote:

No kits, great idea. What constitutes a kit? A whole robot kit, or a Velleman board?

Perhaps we also need weight classes and cost scales: 1.0lbs to 5.0lbs $300 5.1lbs to 10.0lbs $500 10.1lbs to 20.0lbs $700 20.0lbs to 100.0lbs $900 greater than 100lbs $1000
Also make a point structure from coming in under budget?

I can see that, but by the same token, I can see someone with access to a $50,000 logic analyzer having a huge advantage over someone using a kernel debugger.

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mlw wrote:

Hmmm. I was thinking of entire robot kits, but for some reason I have no problem with building a base from a kit. I also have no problem with using an SBC such as the MAVRIC boards.
On the other hand, I'm not fond of using a single kit to build an entire robot.
This may just be an aftifact of my own prejudices.

...
Yes, this was what I meant by points added for "creative budgeting".

Not always. I think in hobby robotics that ingenuity matters more than fancy tools. I don't even have an oscilloscope or logic analyzer. -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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I wonder how it is possible to build a 100lb robot for $1000 :-)? I guess its name would be nobrain. Please do not take it seriously. I am kidding.
Ek
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Ek wrote:

I'm pretty sure if I added a couple of dumbells to one of mine I could get there pretty easily.
--
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Ek wrote:

It would only take a few good-sized sealed gel-cell lead batteries.
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D. Jay Newman wrote: [snip]

The logic analyzer I can live without, but I have to admit that the oscilloscope has helped me fix more problems than I care to remember. eBay is a pretty good source for these. I've really come to consider mine essential.
Cheers -- tAfkaks
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the Artist Formerly Known as Kap'n Salty wrote:

I fully agree, and I intend to get one as soon as I've finished my current project. -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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the Artist Formerly Known as Kap'n Salty wrote:

I couldn't live without a scope. A logic analyzer is cool if you have access.
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I like the idea. I'd definitly get on the band wagon if there was something like this.
Some thoughts:
1) for alot of hobby builders that I know (including myself) I could probably build a $1000 dollar robot (or less) but then may not be able to cover entrance fees. Perhaps a sponsorship in this area, rather than parts or money for the actual robot, could be allowed.
2) The idea of corporate or university sponsorship for the event as a whole, as has been suggested, is a good idea. This will cut down on required costs of the organization putting on the event.
3) about universities...I think that having the parts and build methods accountable for would help in this case, but leave equipment out of the restriction. Alot of universities or technical schools will let you use thier labs if you ask nicely, tell them what it's for, and give them a background on what your doing. This doesn't mean they can give you parts, or even expertise from professors and such. Just that you can use thier equipment if you need to.
    Case in point: Have a rule that parts must be traceable. Either through reciepts, bills of lading, or soemthing to that effect. Something to make sure that a team can prove that they obtained the parts themselves rather than having them donated. I would allow "part swapping" though. soemthing like "I'll give you this ADC for that DAC" or something along those lines. But make sure that trades are for fair value of a single piece. Not an op amp for an embedded GPS module, but say a binary comparator, op amp or two, and temp sensor for a multichannel ADC. (I think thats about $10 of value for the swap or so...that's the gist anyways)
    As far as build methods, require each team to keep a journal of the build process, including who came up with what idea, thier theory behind it, and have them able to explain how they came up with it and made it work. That could keep someone from getting something cutting edge from a university or whatnot, and know how to implement it, but not how it was built.
4)Make everyhting open to competitor scrutinization after the competition. This will keep things from happening like they used to in formula one, where one team has a tech advantage and keeps winning for a number of years straight, until someone else catches up and takes over for a few years. It will give people ideas for the next event, develop camraderi between competitors, and make it a learning experience from someone elses success, not jsut your failure. In this respect, everyone could come away a "winner", not just the winning team.
5) Instead of one task, make the competition a multi event type of thing, where one robot, with one configuration, and no parts or software changes between events, must compete in a number of different tasks. This will also help keep one machine from dominating because a machine vision robot can choose a colored ball better than a robot built for transporting things, but cant necessarily be as good at transporting things from one place to another successfully and autonomously.
Just my..uhm..5 cents ;)
--Andy P
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I don't think there should be too many strick rules. If someone could build a super-cool robot for $1080.43, he shouldn't be disqualified.
I think a home/office fire-fighting robot would be a great app, but the contests today are usually for scaled-down, mock-up houses and robots no bigger than 1 sq ft. A full-size apartment, with real furniture and a controlled fire in the corner would make more sense, IMHO.
But, I think a more simpler tasks would be better at first. Like picking up a 1 pound object and placing it in a predetermined area.
And when that becomes too easy, we can graduate to fetching the mail and taking out the garbage contests.
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mlw wrote:

If you are really serious about this you might want to check out and even contact the folks who run the FIRST competitions.
If you want a larger contest then you should seriously consider getting the whole contest sponsored. An outfit like GE or IBM or perhaps the FIRST folks sponsoring the whole thing would seem both possible and helpful.
LB
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snipped-for-privacy@notmine.com wrote:

Links to FIRST
http://www.usfirst.org and http://www.usfirst.org/robotics /
LB (no affiliation with first - just found watching the competition fun)
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snipped-for-privacy@notmine.com wrote:

That's cool and all, but my quick read indicates that it is more of an educational institution and with robots they issue "kits" from which you solve a problem.
My idea is to create a task that a mobile robot could do, say, deliver mail or something.
Then teams or people enter the contest. The robot that completes the competition first wins. There will have to, of course, be handycaps, i.e. cash outlay. If a guy spends $999.99 on his robot, and does the task in 10 minutes, but another guy spends $199 on his robot and accomplishes the task in 10:10, then while the $999.99 robot is technically "better" the lesser robot is a more efficient design.
I don't know, maybe there are multiple trophies, winner, best overall, etc?
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mlw wrote:

Not to discourage you, but you may want to spend a fair amount of time reading that web site. As it says at the top of the main page FIRST's purpose is...
"...to create a world where science and technology are celebrated... where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes..."
- Dean Kamen, FIRST Founder
These folks have their stuff together. BTW the finals have been televised on Public TV and/or TLC and/or its affiliates. There are many meets around the country this weekend and the next two. We found it a lot if fun not only watching the robots but the whole atmosphere where the High Schools bring cheerleaders and whoop it up.
LB
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snipped-for-privacy@notmine.com wrote:

Yes, "young people." All the events are through trade schools and stuff. I'm talking about use hard core robot hackers that have full time jobs and stuff.
Surely, adults (and maybe kids) who may not nessisarily be employed in the robotics industry or taking classes on it, who view robotics as a hobby, should be able to have our own thing.
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mlw wrote:

My reason for pointing you at the site was to both warn and show you some of the complexities of what you are proposing. OTOH I think it is a really neat idea. Unfortunately its going to take a LOT of effort to make something happen.
LB
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mlw wrote:

How do you determine how much money people have spent on their robot? If somebody "gives" me a couple of motors that are worth $100 each? What is somebody scrounges some neat stuff at the local swap meet?
I am skeptical that setting up a competition where price is the primary criteria is going to provide a very level playing field. I do not want to discourge setting up a compatetion, I just think that using price is not a very good parameter for judging.
My $.02,
-Wayne
My real E-mail address is Wayne .at. Gramlich @Dot@ Net.
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Wayne C. Gramlich wrote:

Of course people can cheat, but friendly competitions usually expect some degree of trust.

Price is certainly limited, but I wouldn't call it a primary criteria. The price should be sufficient that one could build something good and have fun building it. Think of it like NASCAR or Stock car races, there are rules about engines, components, and body, but the primary objective is still racing. Didn't you ever do pinewood derby as a kid?
The primary criteria will be the task at hand. The restrictions on price and corporate sponserships just send the message that this is an amature competition.

Does that mean you may be interested?
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