more robotics fun at sparkfun/ boulder robot battle and autonomous vehicle competition

hi all! busy day, yesterday (jun 21st) went to the 2015 sparkfun boulder AVC (autonomous vehicle competition), 1st time there, had great time. more summer robotics. they had human-controlled robotic combat of lightweight robots in an enclosed plexiglass cage with a large spinning circular blade in the corner (a sort of “death trap field hazard” that could be used in the fighting strategy), and sparks and robots were literally flying, to big audience reactions and cheers. also a large autonomous race course spread out over their huge parking lot. lots of fun for the kids with various electronic exhibits (luved the hover pong! moving the paddle using a hand over a motion sensor!), video games, robot kits etc. didnt catch too much of the autonomous action, unfortunately got to it late and a single robot seemed stuck… maybe more action earlier? the entire event was taped/ livestreamed…

sparkfun is an amazing company, its built up to a massive warehouse facility (new huge site only a few yrs old) and ~140 employees in something like less than a decade, mainly selling robotic and electronic parts and kits. they have large training rooms. so lucky, managed to go on a brief floor tour!

there was a 3d printer exhibit with impressive models. sketchup software also based in boulder was there with a very nice 3d wood cut hexapod (saw them also at denver comiccon a few wks ago). this company is very interesting, they were owned by google for ~1 decade and recently sold. their software is competitive with very advanced systems such as SolidWorks but targets the low end market. it has a lot of 3d printing tie-ins. however their main consumer base seems to be architects/ architecture uses and they are moving more in that direction. their rep colorfully described 3d printing as a “gateway drug” to full CNC (computer numerical control) machining.

based on a hot tip, managed to catch a very entertaining workshop that was really full of fascinated kids. Serafin Sanchez also an ableton instructor set up a demonstration of MaKey MaKey kit that can be used to play fruit (bananas, strawberries) as a music instrument, wild stuff! it was hooked up to ableton live software.

another highlight was the two bit circus electronics exhibits eg games. the young kids were enthralled/ glued to one simple tabletop one in particular with trackballs. looked up this company a bit and found it quite wild also. they produce the SF STEAM carnival & sure know how to make catchy videos with vibrating music. a bunch of mad scientists & inventors. as their rep said (who’d been to Burning Man twice, green with envy on that), “basically we never grew up”. those guys seem just a little bit crazy eg with their dunk tank flambe! its a demonstration of a fireproof suit in an enclosed box and it looks like propane flamethrowers to me. and the kids were throwing balls to trigger it. what could possibly go wrong, right? and bet the liability insurance for that event wasnt too expensive right? LOL half joking, am suspecting they surely didnt have any! 😮 ❗

they really remind me (aka strong deja vu) of some old group in SF from years ago who iirc built fire breathing robots, but just cant place the name right now! think they were mentioned in wired a few times!

sparkfun also reminds me a lot of acroname robotics. they did ~2-3 robot conferences/ competitions in boulder in the early 2000s (there is possibly virtually no trace left on the internet), but seem not to have continued that, based on the mindstorms kit. a big/ memorable highlight for me was seeing a presentation on early use of rescue robots in the WTC disaster but dont recall the presenters name. its interesting to compare the two companies also, they have quite similar business plans and yet one grew quite dramatically (sparkfun) after being founded several years after the other (acroname). maybe a dramatic a case study in CEO/ MBA leverage contrasts/ differences eh?

played with the mindstorms kit on the day it was introduced in 1999, designed/ built an ingenious walking biped mechanism using the C brick compiler, have always dreamed of patenting it. and remember that lego even did a mall tour to announce/ promote mindstorms (am so happy this product is still available, now in 3rd generation), with a travelling bus (reminding me of rock stars), iirc it was Aurora mall. met the cute marketing girl & a pro lego builder from denmark who specialized in robotics. talk about a “dream job” which for me seems somewhat an oxymoron. or at least always dramatically inversely proportional with pay. 😦

as for me am mostly totally domesticated in comparison and my biggest recent project over the last few years is perfecting my “robotic” travelling sprinkler system including two timers, one of them supporting up to 4 separately controlled valves, also just set up yesterday for this summer… and maybe contributing that )( much to inspiring/ raising the next generation of STEM users/ enthusiasts/ and maybe even builders… does Minecraft count? 😉

update just read on reddit (~3.5kv!) that the new season premiere of battlebots is airing tonite on ABC! awesome! 😎 😀


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