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[DPRG] On contests

Subject: [DPRG] On contests
From: David M Wilson davidmw at tx.rr.com
Date: Thu May 31 17:49:48 CDT 2007

With basically zero experience with contests in any capacity, I don't hope
to comment on or to even form an opinion on the management of DPRG contests.
It is clear that a few dedicated people contribute a majority of the effort
and keyboard quarterbacking won't be of much value.  It feels like my
message about contest sponsorships was expanded on (but constructively) when
I wished to keep it focused.

My point was this:  it doesn't matter if we had 2 or 30 entries on Saturday.
Failing to leverage event sponsorship is a missed opportunity and serves no
one well.

To DPA's questions - here are some personal observations about the value of
the contests and the builder motivation they may or may not generate:

Saturday's contest was a good example of a course designed for a large
number of technical solutions.  The course was specified in GPS coordinates,
headings and distances, ground paint, and traffic cones.  

My robot could not operate on the course and the best I could hope for was a
move indoors.  But the contest and booth display sure did motivate
improvements.  4 wheel steering was added for operation on carpet and that
required significant modifications to the control software.  This also
forced a battery and charger upgrade.  And at the 11th hour a compass
solution was developed to address waypoints that are beyond the range of the

Contests spur the development of rockets and robots even when we fail to
approach the starting line.  These changes could make contests more

- When possible, physically improve contests to better support a variety of
sensing techniques.  The new mini monthly contests are brilliant and are
easier to enter because there is considerable flexibility available in the
appearance of the waypoints.  Simply changing the colors used on the old T
course would help significantly.  Why are the T course markings the same
color as the arena walls if we want to encourage use of vision systems?

- Consider a new generation of events.  Maybe we should be actively
encouraging the development of some ribbon or stair climbers.  Failures
could be spectacular (this is a good thing), the challenges have practical
applications and in both cases members could focus on hardware solutions and
not get bogged down in tricky software tasks.  The events could play well
for small audiences.

- Identify a national competition to attend.  Use local competitions to
select and refine the entry that becomes the DPRG sponsored national entry.
This could be a group effort or an individual's robot.  Contest entry fees
could be used to help fund the travel expenses for a robot handler to attend
the national event for DPRG.  I'm certainly willing to do my part to fund
travel for the most deserving robot and handler to attend RoboGames (or
whatever contest) to represent DPRG.  It doesn't matter if it is tankbot,
Jbot, Stella, one of Will's creations or any other as long as we are well
represented in the appropriate event.  The exposure could be great for DPRG
and sponsors.

- Create an 'open' or 'audience favorite' performance event to deal with
oddball robots or specific talents that don't fit other events.  Unlike
'show and tell' this would only be for functional devices and the operator
would state what the expected behavior or goal is supposed to be.  No long
speeches, just action and demonstration.

- Move the monthly Mini Contest and the Open Event to a public space in the
museum each month.  We have all these science fans walking by our meeting
room and only a few brave souls will risk entering.  Encourage kids to bring
robot creations, make sure the museum store has good kits for sale, and work
with the museum for exposure and prizes.  We could offer to staff some RBjr
workshops or mini-camps.  This could be a great time to build interest and
funding for the national entry and to gain new members while helping to
create some good competition.

David Wilson

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