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DPRG: Future contests

Subject: DPRG: Future contests
From: David Philip Anderson dpa at io.isem.smu.edu
Date: Thu Nov 11 17:13:09 CST 1999


Seems to be a divergence of opinion concerning the level of difficulty
of the RoboFest contests, and the potential barrier this may form for
beginning robotists.  I suspect this was prompted by the low turnout at
the last contest.

As I understand the last few postings, Clay and Dan M. (and possibly James
Vroman?) find the current tasks may be too difficult for novices.  

Dan writes:

> I agree with what Clay said at the last meeting.  Our current
> barrier to entry to too big for many people that want to get
> started in robotics.  

and James replies:

> You've been peeking.
> I have a 3'x5' version of our present course under construction.
> I have a 4'x4' version of the trinity firefighting house 
> I plan on using a 40khz modulated led in a film canister (trash can ) as
> the fire. I have a 4'x4' sumo ring that can be converted into the Abyss
> A course where you have to navigate around an elevated roadway without
> falling into the Abyss. I have several track shapes planned.

though this seems to me to be pretty ambitious for novices that may now
be having trouble getting from one end of the room to the other and back.

Ed K. and Jim Brown seem to suggest just the opposite, i.e., that we don't 
want to make the contest any easier than it already is.   I've suggested that 
we might want to reinstate the Quick-Trip task, which was eliminated from 
the last contest, as an easier entry-level competition.

Ed writes:

> I don't have any objection to restoring a Quick Trip, as long as there is no
> line following for it.  I would also recommend a rule that says the robot
> has to execute a minimum of 160 or 170 degrees of turn in total, to
> eliminate robots that just go straight and back - I really think those are
> below the intelligent behavior threshold we'd be looking for.

and Jim also wrote:

> I can't imagine an easier contest than going down and coming back or
> line following, nor do I think we should make it any easier than that. 
> There have been young-uns before that have completed with no problem.

My own young-un, with a pair of motors and a switch (wall following mouse)
was able to complete the Quick-Trip and Ttime tasks a few RoboFests ago.
Delynda might have done the same last time if not for the aforementioned
floor covering, using the same mouse kit.

So what do you think, is the contest discouragingly hard, or almost too easy?
Opinions?  Suggestions?

I have a couple of random observations about the last RoboFest that might
be food for thought.  First, this is the only time that I know of that
the audience had to pay admission to see the contest, and I think this
is not a good thing.  Dan Miner actually had to pay for his own two daughters
to watch him run his robots!  This was required by the Science Place, as
admission to their museum, and I understand their reasoning.  Still, it's not
in the best interest of the club, and no doubt diminished the attendance.

Second, after the contest concluded, lots of folks who had not entered their
robots in the event brought them out to run on the course.  This was really
neat!  Isn't this the real purpose of the whole thing?   Kind of makes you 
stop and think, no?  Can we capitalize on this?



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