FIRST Tech Challenge – Buster’s Perspective

So recently I’ve been having fun acting as a mentor for a local FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team.  In case you haven’t heard of FTC, or any of the other FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics programs, they were created by Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway, among other things) in an effort to get kids interested in careers as engineers and scientists.  They are, in essence, sporting events for robots, like this one we call Buster:

Buster the Robot

This is a robot developed by the Waterloo Upward Bound team (we don’t have an official name yet).  Actually, this is just the prototype version of Buster.  Our real robot is still in development and isn’t quite driveable yet.  Fortunately, we have this very simple prototype which the students can use to create and test their operating programs.

Buster will be competing in a competition which lasts just two and a half minutes.  For the first thirty seconds, he must act in complete autonomy – no human interaction is allowed.  After that, the students can use up to two different controllers to navigate around the arena.  Check out this page for details and video of this year’s challenge.

So I wanted to just quickly post a video I shot from on-board the robot this afternoon.  In this clip, we’re testing autonomous operation.  Buster is driving completely on his own using an ultrasonic rangefinder and a light sensor.  The ultrasonic sensor is always visible in the video, and points forward attempting to detect obstacles.  The light sensor is not visible, but points at the ground and helps Buster avoid dark-colored objects on the floor (green tiles, the black mat, and dark spaces).  When a wall is encountered, Buster picks a random direction and turns until no obstacles are in range.  At this point, he drives forward once again.  When a dark-colored object is detected on the floor, the robot stops, reverses, turns slightly to the left, and continues forward again.  Check it out:

Pretty neat perspective, right?  Feel free to post comments and questions below!

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