Sunday, 20 December 2009

Competition 2009 -Coach's Notes

Sorry to be posting this rather late, but here is an overview of the competition day from my perspective.


The evening before the competition, I had packed up the car with robot, lego, spare batteries, mat, mission models, extension cable, connecting cables, 2 laptops, camera, display boards, mascotte, directions, GPS, etc. etc.
Joseph and family had already headed up to Leicester and would stay in a hotel with pool, to make the most of the outing.
Peter and his father would make their own way up.
I had filled the tank with petrol, topped up the screen wash, hoovered the car, put the two seats back in so Alison and two of her children could drive with us and had gone to bed tired, but content. I woke up at 4 am with a start, suddenly realising I had forgotten to set the alarm for 4:30 and thinking it was 6 o'clock, the time of our departure. I now had two hours to get even more prepared.
Promptly at six, Alison was dropped off by her husband, who - feeling not at all good - had driven his family over at this early hour. We all bundled into the car, I turned the key and...had to conclude the battery hadn't made it through the cold night. We had spare items for most of the competition stuff, but I had forgotten to arrange a back up plan for the car.


Before I even could get out of the car, Alison had called her husband, who was already a good length into his journey back home. He turned around and picked us up. We had to transfer all the contents from my car into his, which unfortunately was already full with kid's bikes. We then had to bring him back home, unload to superfluous cargo and at very long last we were on our way to Loughborough.
It is a two and a half hour drive, so it was going to be tight, but we kept our fingers crossed and we made it in time. Finding a parking place proved difficult, as some other even had conveniently been organised, that very same day.

Setting up

The other team members and our competitors had all arrived. We were met by the organiser of the event, Mrs. Davis, who showed us our table. We quickly unpacked, set up our practice mat (which the children never really used, they were far too nervous for that), displays and computers. We were given a schedule, which said that our robot had to compete immediately at 10 0'clock. The robot needed urgent charging, the attachments had to be attached, but there was so much to see (other school children, the other robots, free chocolates, competition tables) that the children found it hard to concentrate on what needed to happen, at first.
We looked pretty cheerful in our B.O.B. shirts and Aurora, our Mascotte penguin, wearing the same shirt, got a lot of attention from the other children.

First Round

Tualin and Jospeh were the first to take the robot to the table (per round only two team members are allowed at the competition table. They cannot change places, nor may other team members step over the white line, marked out around the table: the team will lose points.)
The two competition tables stand right next to each other, but the starting points (bases) are at opposite corners.
The robot did terrible. It missed all of the hoops, got stuck with the crash test truck and knocked over a warning beacon in the first run. In the second run it got stuck on the toppled warning beacon and couldn't make it over the dynanometer (the double rollers). Joseph was swift to react, picked up the robot and the boys started the robot on this second run again. This time it managed to bump off an access marker and finish on the landing spot.
We were very down. Joseph and Tualin were destroyed. If this was what the robot was going to do the rest of the day, there was no hope for us.
Each round consisted of 3 competitions, during which two teams showed what their robot could do (there were six competing teams). So after our disappointing start, we watched the other four teams compete. To our mounting surprise, they did just as bad!
Whe the results for the first round finally came, we found ourselves - incredibly - in second place. There was hope yet!

Presentation Robot Design

At 10:30 The children were lead into a room upstairs, where two judges were still discussing a thing or two about the presentation of the previous group. We had understood that only the children were allowed in, but I was permitted to film it all (it turned out later that everybody had been allowed to watch, but we didn't know that then).
The judges were simply great. They introduced themselves as a robot designer and programmer and (if I remember correctly) a Russian lady who was an engineer and lecturer.
They asked the children questions about what their robot could do, if they had used censors, how they had programmed it, etc. They seemed so genuinely interested and appeared to really enjoy talking about it, that it made the children very quickly at ease. They chatted and explained details freely, added on to each other's comments and laughed. It was very touching to see the enthusiasm of all present. Energized, we all left the room and I was immensely impressed, both by the team as well as the judges.

Transportation Project Presentation

When it was time to go into yet another room for the presentation of B.O.B.'s project on fords (wet roads), we all went: the whole team, five parents and two siblings.
We had had some problems getting Nidanu's laptop started - the one with the slides for the transportation project on it! Finally, after deleting some problems it worked. In the mean time Joseph's father had gotten his laptop out and had copied the presentation on to it, just in case.
It was a wise thing to do and it saved the presentation, as the first laptop couldn't get connected to the screen.
The children lined up in order of presentation (they each presented one or two of the slides and had a maximum of 30 secons for each), set up their display boards and handed out print outs of the slides to the judges.

I was not impressed with the two lady judges for this event. I cannot remember them introducing themselves. They asked seemingly superficial questions, made no personal connection with the children and seemed to go through the motions rather than being truly interested in what the children had defined as a problem, as solutions and what they had found out along the way. As a result, the children became nervous and self aware and far less spontaneous in their answers. When the judges went over to the display boards, the children grouped around them to comment on the pictures of drowned cars on the board, but the chemistry was missing. As one team member aptly put it, after we had left the room: "That seemed fake."

Second Round

At 12:00 the second robotics round started.We were in the last set, Elijah and Peter would handle the robot and it would turn out to be our best round: the robot picked up most of the hoops, pushed the truck off the red hook, but got stuck on the way back. The boys picked it up and brought it back to base from where it went onto its end run, which also went well, knocking off access markers and landing on the landing spot. It kept moving back and forth a little on the landing spot and it was not clear if it still did so when the time was up (the robot has to be at a stand still at that point), but the judges gave us the benefit of the doubt. We were beside ourselves with joy when we found out we had the highest score (225 points) of both rounds.
We had understood that the highest score of all three rounds would count as our final score, so all of a sudden we found ourselves in the lead!


The lunch provided for by Loughborough University was a real treat: lovely sandwiches with many different fillings, duck spring rolls, deepfried prawns in batter, frittatas, fruit, chicken kebabs, crisps, etc. And plenty for everyone, too. Although the nerves had driven away most of the children's hunger, we all sat together in a circle - B.O.B. and supporters - and let our nerves calm down a little. The children went outside, afterwards, to run around and let off steam. Not for long, though, because some of the judges were going around, asking the different teams about their team spirit and team work.


One of the design judges - the Russian lady - interviewed our group. I don't know what was asked (perhaps one of the children will add that bit on?), but what I saw was that the B.O.B. members put their arms around each other and talked animatedly to the judge.

To be continued

Friday, 18 December 2009


I wrote an e-mail to TomTom and the reply blow is the reply I got this morning.
My mother is going to write another e-mail to TomTom to say that we don't want any money, we just want to make sure people don't cross fords without planning to.

Dear Nidanu,

Thank you for your e-mail to TomTom bringing your innovative concept to our attention.

TomTom is a modern company founded by innovative people and moving forward on the power, intellect and creativity of a large staff of
innovative engineers and researchers. We are therefore always happy to be considered for externally created inventions, concepts and/or ideas, as this is a kind
positive recognition by external innovative companies or individuals.

A rather serious problem that may arise is what would happen if a friendly relationship would turn into a not so friendly one.
This may arise if we here in TomTom happen to come up with a similar invention to the one we are offered from an external inventor.
In this situation, there would be the natural tendency to suspect TomTom of foul play even though it would not have been the case.
As you can imagine, we wish to avoid such unpleasant situations.

In order to address the above problem, we have had to make the painful decision to say, as a general company policy, “thanks but no, thanks”
to any invention disclosures we receive. We find this decision necessary, though unfortunate, as it deprives us of the opportunity to consider some
interesting inventions and concepts such as, no doubt, yours.

We would be grateful for your understanding of the position we must take and offer you our sincerest good wishes in finding a suitable business partner
to bring your invention to market.

Kind regards,

Meike Mikesell

Thursday, 17 December 2009


I received this in response to an e-mail I sent to Mark Edwards of West Berks council:

Dear Matilda
Thank you for your email, I am pleased that Stuart Clark was able to assist you.

I have arranged for the marker post at Bucklebury Ford to be repositioned. Fortunately we have very few problems in West Berkshire with vehicles becoming stuck in fords, although it does happen from time to time. I think your idea is very innovative, I'm not sure if such a system is commercially available but I will speak to the company that make and supply our Vehicle Activated Signs, some of which are solar powered (you may have come across them on the local road network) to see if they have heard of such a suggestion before. I certainly haven't.

Thanks again for writing and good luck in the competition !

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


YAY! We came 2nd at the competition and we got the Best Robot Design award! We had a joint top score or 225/400 on the track! Thank you so much to all our sponsors, we couldn't have done this without you!


P.S. YAY! 2ND!

Monday, 14 December 2009


Sadly, team member Ilene has decided to leave our team. She says it was because she didn't like the way we all got rather irritated and she was bored.
Ilene, if you're reading this, we miss you!


Sunday, 13 December 2009


The competition date is the fifteenth, so remember, the fifteenth is Tuesday!
We have to get up early (because the journey is 2.5 hours) to leave at six am.


Tomorrow is the last day we can program, practice the presenation and do all the things we need to do.
We are definetly absolutley not finished with the robot!!!
But Tualin is still going strong, he won't give up. : )

Thursday, 10 December 2009


Originally uploaded by asilon
Twyford ford from the west


Originally uploaded by asilon
Looking north towards the ford from the footbridge


Originally uploaded by asilon
Measuring stick that I don't really understand by the footbridge


Originally uploaded by asilon
Once the water had been about a metre high for a couple of weeks, they closed the road.


Originally uploaded by asilon
Ford from the west - water level is exactly 1m according to the measuring thing


Originally uploaded by asilon
Barriers blocking the ford from the east. Not the best photo as I was leaning over a barbed wire fence.


Originally uploaded by asilon
Closer view of the measuring thing.


Yesterday Alison came with Elijah and Tallulah, but sadly Matilda was ill.
We spent most of our team meeting coming up with the solution for our project.........and we came up with one (or several, really)!
It is: When you come to a junction nearby a ford, we want to put up an electric solar panelled sign which displays the depth of the ford, so you can change your mind if you think it is too deep.
We also thought that a sign should be put up at the previous junction and at the ford, which will be very clear to read and pointing to the direction for the alternative way.
We also suggested that the GPS should ask you, when you program your route, whether you want to cross a ford or not, just like it does with toll roads.
Our last solution was making barriers at fords that automatically close when the water is above a certain level. When it is closed, you can chose to press a button to open the barrier and carry on.
If you press the 'no' button a flashing arrow will show you the alternative route.
We managed to do a bit of the track where the green, yellow and red hoops are, with Andy.
We had pasta for dinner which was very delicious.
Joseph was the first one to arrive yesterday and the last to leave : )
Ilene came later to join us for dinner and start the power point presentation.
My mother finally put some pictures on the Blog!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Yesterday we didn't save what we had programmed.
But this morning we found a large part of it!
Tualin nearly got everything back to normal, but there are still things that have to get changed.
I have kept on going with re-writing the document for the presentation on friday at ERAPA.
Tualin picked up the grey hoop again.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

We are on the verge of losing an hour of working. The others are working on getting it back. We have almost got it back kind of.


We have just made the robot consecutively collect both the blue hoop and the grey hoop three times. YAY!



Djamila has just received an e-mail from the organiser of the competition at Loughborough. She says that she has had teams cancelling every 2 or 3 days lately. She says she has 4 confirmed primary schools. This is quite good because we will only be against primary schools and not even very many of them! This gives us a slightly larger chance of plcing well.
Hopefully we should score decent points on the day.



When we came to the ford, nearly immediately a car and a small truck came. The car didn't go through the ford, but the small truck did.
We first played around a bit (well I must admit that for the whole hour we played around).
And then we walked through the ford (the ones with high wellies) to see how deep it was.
Then Elijah took a small bike out of Alison's car, and then we rode that through the ford and we didn't get wet at all that way.
We also looked for some wildlife and for a while we could only see river weed, but at the end, when we were nearly leaving, we saw a very big fish, but sadly it was dead.
We asked one of our team to look how close you had to be to see the water meter.
From the direction of Bucklebury, the water meter that was supposed to be facing that way couldn't be seen at all.
What we realised was that only vans, trucks, jeeps, those kind of cars drove through the ford.

Some of the questions we answered

1. How deep is it? 0.5 feet.
2. Is there a footbridge? Yes.
3. Is there anthing obvious suggesting there can't be a bridge? Well, there is a footbridge so one would assume that you could build a road bridge but I think it would be a bit awkward to build one.
4. Is there a water meter? Yes, there are 2. However on has been crashed into and is no longer visible to those coming from the south. The one for the people coming from the north is perfectly clear, but you have to be quite close to accurately read it.
5. Where is the water meter located? They are both positioned on the centre of the ford on the right side.
6. How fast is the water flowing? Not very fast, not fast enough to move a car that was large enough to go through the ford.
7. Is there an alternative route? From both directions, yes. An alternative route is signposted if you are coming from the north but is is not from the south.
8. How far is the quickest one? About five minutes.

Ilene and Tilda


Today we went to Bucklebury ford and studied it for an hour. I think we managed to answer all of our questions. It was very interesting and informative. I will post all the questions and answers later.


Monday, 7 December 2009

The first week of December

Last week only Joseph, Peter and Niamh came, though we got a lot done.
We managed to get the blue hoop perfectly and we sometimes got the the grey one.
Now of course we have problems picking up the blue hoop again. : (
Niamh and I made a table for the presentation; we still need to decide who is going to do what.
I also started to play around with the robot to knock down the access markers.
The robot can't go over the bumper any more. We suspect the re-chargeable battery is heavier than the one before.
The second meeting we had was cancelled because our mother was ill.
Then we had some set backs, because my father started improving our computers and suddenly we couldn't get to the robot files. Luckily that's all sorted out again.

Friday, 4 December 2009


And one from the Environment Agency:
Dear Matilda,

Thank you for your questions about fords.

I found some useful information on Wikipedia which you might find interesting -

Also, I talked to one of my colleages - Ian Norriss - who works in the Development and Flood Risk team for your area. He told me that although he is not an expert when it comes to fords, he does know a bit about them - here is what he said :

The obvious solution to the problems associated with a ford is a bridge! In the past fords may have been installed in favour of bridges as a they are a cheaper, easy to install option. I suspect that the main reason that remaining fords are not replaced is due to their novelty/historical value. In my experience they are good fun to drive through! The water becomes too high to cross due to the natural increase in river flows during and after wet periods. They generally only still exist on minor roads. One possible way of lowering water levels across a ford could be to lengthen the ford so that the water flows across a wider area.

That is all the information I was able to get for you on the subject, but I do hope it comes in useful.

Good luck with the rest of your project,

Kind regards


I have received a letter from Microsoft informing me and Peter that they cannot help us a this time.


Highways e-mail

An e-mail I got from the Highways Ahency
Dear Matilda Price:

Thank you for your email. Your latest query has been passed to me to answer. My response is set out below

The Highways Agency is an executive agency of the Department for Transport. We manage, maintain and improve England’s motorways and trunk roads on behalf of the Secretary of State. Unfortunately, we do not own any fords so you should contact your local Highways Authority as they will be in a better position to provide you with better information on this topic and local examples. However, as an Environmental Advisor for the Highways Agency working in the Environment Group and dealing with water quality issues, I am pleased to help you responding your questions.

Why are the fords still fords?

Why isn't there a bridge?

Why do they get too high?

A ford is a place in a watercourse that is shallow enough to be crossed. It is mostly a natural phenomenon, in contrast to a low water crossing, which is an artificial bridge that allows crossing a river or stream when water is low.

One of the reasons fords stills fords is because it is a much cheaper form of river-crossing than a bridge but it may become impassable after heavy rain or during flood condition as you explained in your email. A ford is therefore normally only suitable today for very minor roads. Most modern fords are shallow enough to be crossed by cars and other wheeled or tracked vehicles. However, the problem about fords is that they overflow in wet weather.

At places where the water is shallow enough, but the material on the riverbed will not support heavy vehicles, fords have to be improved by the provision of a submerged concrete floor. In such cases a curb is often placed on the downstream side to prevent vehicles slipping off, as growth of algae will often make the slab very slippery.

I hope the above provides you enough information. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me

Best Regards


I see that no-one has posted while i've been away. I would really like if you could all post a bit more! I have no idea what has happened while i've been away. I know for a fact that most people are now on the blog so post! POST!