Welcome to the development blog for Source Bots, a not-for-profit organisation aiming to promote STEM to teenagers. For a few years now, Source Bots has hosted an annual robotics competition in the form of a summer school for Year 12 students. With the sixth iteration of the event set to take place in summer 2017, Source Bots has joined forces with element14, who have provided components and support to help take the event to the next level.
The summer school itself is managed by the Smallpiece Trust and the University of Southampton, while the Source Bots team provides the core event: an exciting week-long team challenge in which the participants design, build and program an autonomous robot, culminating in an action-packed knockout competition. Beginning with their arrival on Monday, the students have a week of intensive tinkering and testing as they try and turn heaps of wood into fully functioning robots.
One of the core aims of the project is to keep the barrier to entry as low as possible. Many of the competitors have little or no prior experience of programming or electronics. To cater for this, the team runs a number of tutorial sessions throughout the week to introduce participants to the fundamentals. Every team also has a dedicated mentor to help them through some of the more difficult problems they may encounter.
As the students have less than a week to prepare for the competition, Source Bots provides them with all the parts needed to build a robot, as well as access to fully equipped electronics, computer laboratories and workshop facilities. Among the components provided are materials with which to construct a chassis, a Raspberry Pi for use as the central computer inside the robot, a webcam and a pair of custom modules for driving motors and distributing battery power. The Raspberry Pi comes with all the necessary low-level software already installed, as well as a computer vision package; students can get a robot moving with simply a couple of lines of Python. Much of the kit is brand new this year, with Farnell element14 having provided the majority of the components and equipment.
Hosting the summer school at the university has a number of advantages. The competitors get a taste of university life by staying in halls and have the opportunity to talk to current students about their experiences. They are also able to see and use some of the world-class facilities that Southampton University has to offer. It also makes the event much more straightforward and cost-effective to organise; for example, many of the venues can be booked for a much lower cost than similar third-party venues.
If you would like to contribute to the Source Bots project, volunteers in the Southampton area are always welcome to assist in mentorship and setting up the arena. There are also many ways in which you can contribute online, such as writing software or preparing tutorial sessions; email Kier Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to get involved.
You can also get involved by setting up an event of your own. While the Source Bots Robotics Summer School is a fairly complex project, it is easily scaled - an activity with a similar structure could be run at a reduced scale in an afternoon at a local school, for example. Team Source Bots would be glad to assist and may be able to provide advice, resources and software. If you have an idea for a cool STEM-promoting activity, contact Kier at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing your ideas!