The night of Robotic event

February 11, 2009

The following is an article that I wrote today for TCS. They had requested us to send articles involving some college life experience so that they can put it up on their portal. So, here it is

It was 2 am in the morning when I left my home with my laptop and two circuit boards that I had just soldered. I was on my way to college where my friend Sridhar and my seniors were setting up the arena for a robotics competition. The circuit boards that I was bringing were to control two patrol bots that would work in a similar way to that of the monsters in the Pac-Man game. When I reached the gates, I noticed that the guard was asleep in his cabin; poor guy had been really helpful and deserved theĀ  sleep. I jumped the gates and went to the indoor stadium where others were working. Some of the fine arts team members were giving the final touches to the decorations and the final nails were being driven into the arena. Sridhar was sitting beside the freshly painted arena engrossed in the robot he was trying to get to work. The “patrol bots” had become a very big problem as our original strategy to use timer and relay had backfired. The bots had failed to work as we had desired them to. Now, with only 10 hours before the event would start, we had initiated plan B

Me and Sridhar had then decided to use programmed robots to execute the patrol sequence. He had started modifying the chassis and I went home to get the circuit soldered. As I approached him, he threw me one of the bot and I put circuit on it and programmed it and put it on the floor. As soon as I hit the start button, it worked. We had never been this happy in our life, blissful! Then My senior Shashank came and saw it and then he asked me to calibrate the distance that the bot traveled while he soldered more circuits for the rest of the bots. It was then a painful session of adjusting the delay and testing the bot. After nearly two hours and a rigorous session of discussions, we were ready with the circuits and the bots, now all that was needed was the program to be loaded. Then, when I connected the programmer to my laptop, it was not detected. So much for the short lived happiness!

The rays of sun had lit the indoor stadium slightly when we sat to debug the programmer. Its a really annoying job to debug a PCB without a circuit diagram. After about half an hour of testing by various known techniques, some standard and some gained by experience, we could not determine what was wrong with the programmer. Then Shashank’s friend came in and asked what was happening, we then told him our problem. He had a loader in his home and he offered to lend it. Then Shashank went with him and brought the loader. I quickly loaded the program that I had configured for the first bot. Finally, everyone of us heaved a sigh of relief. Then I suggested that we do a test run and all the 4 bots were placed on the arena and we switched them on simultaneously. Even though they had same program, some went longer distance than the others. Turned out, the chassis that we had modified were not of the same sizes. It was only an hour to the event and we started calibrating the other three Patrol bots. In the mean time, my other team mates started registration and announcement of rules and checking of the robots in accordance to the design constraints to give me some extra time. Finally we started the even an hour late.

We had weeks of planning in this event and yet we had to face problems till the last moment. Some we had anticipated and were prepared for with alternate plans and solutions, like draining of batteries of the patrol bots. Some were unexpected like the loader not working. Yet, the event was a hit due to the excellent co-ordination and presence of mind shown by each and every member of the robotics team of Ayaskanta. Successfully completing that event was one of my memorable achievements. It showed me what team work was, what deadlines meant and how predicting the possible hurdles is important and it was one of the best time of my college life that I will always miss.