World Robot Olympiad 2012, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

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The World Robot Olympiad was held this year in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, at the Sunway Resort Convention Centre. Four hundred teams of children from 34 countries competed in challenges to build robots to solve complex problems. I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest of Lego to present my latest invention; SoundMachine. We were the “robotics experts”, which I always find a humbling title as I consider myself far from expert in building robots 🙂
I was lucky enough to meet up with fellow Lego Mindstorms enthusiasts from around the world. This year we had in attendance
  • NeXTStorm and his amazing boxing robots
  • Bazmarc and WallE
  • Mathias Paul Scholz with his robot shadow puppet theatre and NXT biker gang
  • Simon Burfield and his new robotic wheelchair strong enough to carry an adult
  • David Gilday and Mike Dobson with their Guinness world record holding Rubiks cube solvers
  • Will Gorman with his 3D Lego maker bot and Mars Curiosity rover
  • Lasse Laussen and Ken Madsen with their flying Lego blimp C5
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This year’s event was even bigger than last year in Abu Dhabi. There were more countries represented, more teams in attendance and definitely more people passing through the exhibit hall to see what all the fuss was about. We were kept on our feet for the duration of the event with kids (and parents) eager to see how they could build cool inventions using Lego Mindstorms.
SoundMachine was a big hit, and I was very pleased with how the kids took to building music using Lego. I was challenged with finding a combination of instruments which sound good together. Almost everyone who played with SoundMachine filled an entire Lego plate with bricks, which generally gave a very noisy final result that sounded very little like music. Definitely something to improve.

Day 1 – Deepavali

We had arrived a few days ahead of the event so that we could go sightseeing and acclimatise to the hot humid Malaysian weather. The Deepavali ceremony was coming up, and fresh flowers were being laid out around the hotel and in the adjoining mall to celebrate the festival of light. Most impressive was a hand-made sand painting on the floor of the hotel lobby. We watched as the artist painstakingly laid out a sand picture approximately 5m square using vividly colour sand. It takes him about four hours to make one picture we were told. I hate to think how he feels when the hotel finally sweeps away his hard work!
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Day 1 – Setup

The LEGO experts and myself gathered in the Sunway convention centre to answer the question that had been plaguing us for the previous month; had our precious boxes of LEGO models arrived in one piece? Or were we going to open our boxes to a pile of bricks?
I find out just how well I packed my kit.
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Marie the expert robot builder repairs a RoboGator.
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Will checks his rover wheels.
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Will’s Mars rover arrived intact across interplanetary space.
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Vas putting together the boxing robots.
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Wall-E needs a little help!
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David putting together the Rubiks cube solving robots – MindCuber and CubeStormer.
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Simon making sure the Lego wheelchair can hold his weight.
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Thankfully there was not too much damage from shipping. My SoundMachine boxes were well packed, and only suffered some slight cracking which was easily fixed. A few hours later and I had my booth ready to go.
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I arranged the SoundMachines on the table with space for kids to build using the bricks on the plates. I hid my speakers behind the units and crossed my fingers… would it work?
The robotics experts after a long day building our models on the stands.
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Day 2 – Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony kicked off the event, and the LEGO Robotic Experts had a part to play! The Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia was to open the event and Steven from LEGO wanted to do something cool; how could we get some LEGO robots involved in the opening ceremony? A crazy plan was hatched; the Deputy PM would press a button on a LEGO remote which would then trigger the Mars Rover (built by Will) to turn and flash its lights at the LEGO flying blimp (built by Lasse and Ken). The blimp would then take off and fly over the head of the audience to fire a “laser” at a target on the screen marking the official kick-off of WRO 2012. It all sounded so simple when Steven described it to us the night before…
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Late-night hackathon reprogramming a Mars rover.
You often hear of the “man behind the curtain” at these technology demos, made famous by the scene in the movie the Wizard of Oz. This was my turn, along with Will, to be the man behind the curtain. The complex sequence of movements that the rover needed to perform could only be achieved if two people were controlling it. Will and I stood behind a curtain with ours hands perched over our remote controls for almost two hours while we waited for our critical moment.
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Here you see children from Malaysia performing the traditional welcome dance.
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The crow assembled – the hall was full of noisy anticipation!
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A traditional Malay music band performing.
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The country representatives gather on stage
When the time came the DPM was handed a remote control which we built the night before, and as Will and I watched for the lights on the remote to flash… they turned out all of the lights in the room and started flashing strobe lights!
Thankfully we were able to manoeuvre the Rover in the dark with no clear vision and pull off an impressive opening sequence. I now have great respect for the NASA engineers who drive the real rovers on far-off worlds!

Day 2 – Let the madness begin!

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The first day of the robotics competition was madness. On my first day I ran SoundMachine 620 times! By the end of the day I was knackered and delighted in how well SoundMachine performed. I was competing with the overly loud music being broadcast in the hall (we had to shout to be heard over the music) but people still got to experience the joy of “building” music.
One thing became quickly apparent to me; kids wanted to fill the entire plate with bricks which created a terrible noise once it was scanned in. When I designed SoundMachine I assumed that people would put a few bricks on each track to see how it sounded and then add more bricks. My assumption was not a good one!
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WRO Competitions

The WRO main event was composed of a series of robot challenges, and the teams that solved the challenges the fastest scored the most points.
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In the Robot Van Gogh challenge teams had to move pieces around a playing field to match coloured blocks to their correct location. This is not an easy problem to solve, especially if your robot is moving fast.
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Robot table soccer was another competitive event, with robots chasing a IR beacon as a ball.
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These robots move fast!

Despite being young all of the competitors took the event very seriously. They had won their national championships and were representing their home countries. This was a real competition with national pride at stake!
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Day 3 – Saying goodbye

All good things must come to an end, and the WRO 2012 was no exception. On Sunday we ran another series of demos for the models and then at lunchtime had to pack up. It was a big rush for me to pack my models, grab some lunch, pack my suitcase and head to the airport. We had 25 hours of traveling ahead of us with a stop-over in Dubai.
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View from the tail-camera of the plane as we left Dubai airport.
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A long way still to go home
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Almost there!
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Home at last
It was an amazing experience to attend WRO and already my head is swimming with ideas for next year’s event if I am lucky enough to be invited. Roll on 2013!