Records old, records new, robots borrowed, robots, er, pink

Here are the latest students from my Introduction to Robotics course.


Rachel, Maxie, Ali, Joe

Unfortunately, due to a still unexplained electronic failure, Joe’s robot didn’t make it to the competition.  Ali made a kind offer, which I think he now regrets, to lend Joe his robot for the race.  With some unbelievable driving skills, Joe guided Ali’s skillfully-crafted vehicle around the course in a record 22 seconds, shaving an incredible 20 seconds off the previous fastest time.  I still can’t quite believe it!  Ali himself managed 37 and 42 seconds, so the three fastest times ever recorded have all been with Ali’s speed machine!  Beat that!

If there was a prize for cutest robot, Rachel and Maxie would certainly win.  Adorned with its pink wings, this tiny robot has been added to my “not to be recycled” collection.


Flaming Turtle




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I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Ham CoderDojo, which took place last weekend at Kingston University.  Peter Wolf and the team have done an amazing job building this monthly event up over the past 3 years.  Eighty-seven (yes 87!) kids arrived to learn how to code and make a variety of digital devices.  I’m looking forward to next month’s event.

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Our latest students

Three students, with 3 different objectives, but no Python programming experience, built and programmed their robots in our November robot weekend.  Callum is looking to study robotics at university, David came just for fun, and Helene came to learn so she can teach kids at CoderDojos.

We have robots!

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More Robots – Records Smashed!!

Our Robot Half Term week saw records tumble.  Not only did we have our two youngest students ever (aged 11), but the records for the obstacle course and the line following course were both broken due to a combination of inspired last-minute code tweaking, favourable weather conditions, and a bit of good luck.  (I bet you are wondering how the weather affects an indoor competition, but it does!).  Check out the updated leader board for details.  In the meantime, I’m going back to the drawing board to see how I can reclaim top spot…


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Robot Weekend

We’ve just finished our robot weekend.  Four students came, robots were designed, wood was cut, numbers were crunched, formulae were derived, algorithms were tweaked, code was written, and two working robots emerged, ready for combat.  Congratulations to Charlie, Alan, Jozef and Danica on some ingenious engineering to build the tiniest robots we’ve had so far.  Both robots took on the obstacle course challenge, but were unable to threaten the pace setters from our summer school, as you can see from the updated leader board.

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Most amazing spreadsheet ever?

I’m researching good resources to explain to students how CPUs work.  I came across a book called “But How Do It Know? – The Basic Principles of Computers for Everyone”, which seems to cover the subject really well, with more specific detail than most other resources (which offer over-simplified descriptions of “Fetch-Decode-Execute” cycles making it difficult to appreciate what’s really happening inside the CPU).

The book talks through a conceptual processor, the Scott CPU.  Some people have created emulations of the Scott CPU, including this one created in an Excel spreadsheet.  Now, I’ve seen some amazing things done in Excel, but this one is unbelievable.  Watch the video and be amazed as it churns through assembly code and lights up bus lines and registers to show the instructions being executed.

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Will it explode?

I’m planning a session entitled “computer autopsy” in which we will take apart various computers to see how they work. One device I’ve dismantled is my old Nook HD+ tablet. It still works fine, but it’s painfully slow to use.  So I am sacrificing it for the greater good of education.  With the macro lens on my camera I can take some nice close-up pictures, such as this one of the CPU:

When I removed the back cover I found that the battery was stuck to the inside of the cover with the world’s stickiest sticky tape.  Using a plastic spatula I managed to prise it off, but bent one end.  Being aware that lithium ion batteries can be a fire risk I googled around to check and found plenty of videos such as this one, showing a damaged battery exploding.  Of course, the infamous example is the exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7 battery.  This all shouldn’t be too surprising;  lithium is a pretty reactive metal, which fizzes away when you drop it into plain water.   But it did receive some good press recently, with scientists at the University of Copenhagen suggesting the addition of lithium to our drinking water to protect the population from dementia.  They do say that more research is needed, so I held back from actually eating my battery for now.

Not being one to take risks, I’ve wrapped the battery in a plastic bag and put it in my bike shed.  So far, no explosion.  If you happen to be in Ealing and see bits of bicycle flying through the air you’ll know what happened…

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