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

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