Hackerspace Heading to Cambridge, England To Compete in Pi Wars

Story and Photos by

Ashley Shickler, Staff reporter

On Thursday March 28, the Hackerspace club will be flying to Cambridge, England to compete in Pi Wars, a robotic competition that will take place on Sunday March 31, Bruce Kerry, the club’s advisor and Computer Information Systems instructor, said.


L to R: Jimmy Alexander, Bruce Kerry, Dalton Pierce, Paul Judge

“There were 168 applicants, only 76 teams chosen, and out of fourteen countries Hackerspace was the only American team chosen to compete,” Kerry said.

Kerry and his five students will be participating in Pi Wars on Sunday at 10:45 am (GMT) at the University of Cambridge in the William Gates Computer Science building, which will be 3:45 am in Albuquerque, Kerry said.

3d printed robot

The robot was designed and built by a 3d printer that Hackerspace students built, Kerry said. 

3d printer by Hackerspace

 “I am really excited to be going because this is my first time going out of the country,” said Dalton Pierce, secretary of the club and electrical engineer and software development major.  

It is called Pi Wars because the robots are mainly driven by a raspberry-pi, which is a microcomputer, Pierce said.

The competition will take place on Sunday morning, and on Saturday Hackerspace will be judging, helping at the front desk, making sure people are in the right place, and helping the younger kids get through their competition, Kerry said.

Out of the 14 competitors in their category Hackerspace will be competing against, there are professional, intermediate, and beginning groups. Hackerspace is in the intermediate group, and will be
going up against computer science professionals, Kerry said.

Pi Wars has seven different challenges the robot has to do that day, including three autonomous and four remote controlled challenges, Kerry said.

“I am feeling more confident about this year’s competition than last years,” Jimmy Alexander, a computer information system major, and the head programmer of Hackerspace, said.

The three autonomous challenges are called The Hubble Telescope Nebula Challenge, The Canyons of Mars, and Blast Off: The Straight-ish Line Speed Test, Kerry said.

The Hubble Telescope Nebula Challenge is a timed test where the robot in the middle of a box and in the box there are colored panels that go in the corner, the robot starts at the center and uses a camera to look for colors and it has to go to the colors in the right order, Kerry said.

The Canyons of Mars is a maze where the robot looks for little green aliens that are on the walls and it has to make its way through the maze without help, Kerry said.

Maze built for the Canyons of Mars challenge.

Blast Off: The Straight-ish Line Speed Test is where the robot is put on the course and then a program is run and the robot has to get to the other end as fast as possible without any help, so it is all programming, Kerry said.

The remote-control challenges are called Pi Noon: The Right Stuff, Space Invaders, Spirit of Curiosity and The Apollo 13 Obstacle Course, Kerry said.

The Pi noon challenge is a non-destructive duel where two robots face off against each other while the controller of each robot tries to pop the opponent’s balloons, Kerry said.

Space Invaders is a target shoot where you knock down as many targets as possible and a slingatron will be used, he said.

Spirit of curiosity is where the robot has to drive over terrain to get to a collection point, and the robot has to collect an object and drive back successfully to the other side, he said.  

Pi Wars judges the teams on ten different categories, including technical merit, artistic merit and blog posts, Kerry said.

“Paul Judge, who did all the design work, had never touched 3d design or the software, and this is how good he has become in three months”, Kerry said.

Paul Judge, computer information systems major, said he came up with the idea to make an all internalized gear box for the robot that you can’t make by hand, so he made the gears all from scratch using the 3d printer, he said.

“I never thought 3d printing would be something I’d be involved in or a thing I could even do, but when I first joined Hackerspace, they were making the 3d printer, and that concept of taking a 3d printer and building a 3d printer with it was like this is where I need to be”, said Judge.

Judge says the general thought process behind this is work from necessity, so they aim for that, so it
performs a task and then they follow up with whatever is necessarily required for it to function. They decided to go with the box because it’s the easiest thing to design with the software, and then he did some rounding on it for a little aesthetic and added the school colors, he said.

Judge also wanted to come up with a modular system because when they 3d print they are not sure how it’s going to work or fit, so the more parts the easier it would be to come up w/ better solution for things, he said.

Jimmy Alexander, the president, head programmer, and a computer information system major, says he starts off by looking at all the rules of the challenge and then figures out exactly what the team needs to do.

“It’s a lot of struggling and then all of a sudden it just works out of nowhere sometimes”, Alexander said.

I talk to Paul and try to see if I can get him to design me a little attachment, I need from the 3d printer, so that way I program around the attachments, even though he doesn’t do a lot of the programming, we work together a lot, Alexander said.

“Here it seems like everyone wants the same goal, so we all take each of our skills and combine them,” Alexander said.

Pierce, who says when he first joined Hackerspace, he was really just trying new things and trying to get out of his comfort zone, and now he is building a 3d printer, he said.

“If you don’t understand something being able to ask someone something and just learning and communicating with others is what I like about being apart of Hackerspace”, Pierce said.

 “This trip is a great opportunity to expand the student’s skills, take what they learned in class, make something real with it, be put under deadlines, and get to travel”, Kerry said.

“We have deadlines, you know, we have stress involved, different kind of stress, delivering on a project that others are going to see and compete with you against, that’s another level of stress the students need to be exposed to because when they get into the real world that’s the kind of stress they’re going to be under”, Kerry said.

Hackerspace does a lot of outreach projects like volunteering to speak at conferences, doing robotic day camps, helping middle/high schoolers learn about computers, and recently they were invited to go to a micro controller event at Meow Wolf, Kerry said.

This is all volunteer, if someone wants to be involved, all we ask is that you show up and help us out and you learn a ton of stuff, Kerry said.

Pi Wars will be live streamed on myitinstructor.com and will also be on Facebook or YouTube for anyone interested in watching Hackerspace compete against the British!

For more information click here –> https://www.myitinstructor.com/piwars-2019

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