MathWorks organized a robotics competition as a part of the recently held Paris Maker Faire scheduled on June 21st and 22nd. The competition allowed participants to get their hands on a custom built mini Mars rover and play with Simulink and MATLAB to show off their robotics skills and received a raving response from a very large number of teams.
The Mars rover
The goal of the competition was simple: Program an autonomous Mars rover to visit a number of sites in the fastest time possible. The sites would be designated using markers on an arena. The robots would be built and provided by MathWorks so the teams could focus on the algorithms - the brainpower to drive the robots, although the robot design was released as well if participants were interested in 3D printing their own prototypes.
A month prior to the competition, the participants were provided a functioning simulation model of the robot on github that they could use to prepare for the competition (check out the models to play with them yourself!). The robot designs and list of necessary hardware are also located on github, so anyone can build the rover and program it!. The competition received about 90 registrations, with teams of varied age groups from 15 - 58. The teams had up till June 1st to tune and modify the models to come out with the quickest simulations.
Simulation model in Simulink
Approximately 45 teams submitted their simulation models, and the best 12 amongst them were invited to the Paris Maker Faire for the final showdown. Not to disappoint the other teams, each team got free stuff including 2 e-tickets for the Maker Faire and an invitation for a Saturday night private party (Losing does not sound so bad after all). Each of the 12 finalists was provided with a webcam equipped Mars rover running on an Arduino DUE and access to the arena. The robots used a Raspberry Pi to process webcam images. The located targets acquired in the images are sent to the Arduino DUE (new support in MATLAB R2014a!) via i2c.
On competition day, It was a fight up to the last minute as teams battled their opponents, switching between algorithms and fine tuning those parameters. Throughout the day, many teams had the chance to be at the top of the scoring list with the best time. But none of them would stay very long as their opponents would quickly redouble their efforts and find ways to pull ahead. This happened all the way to the end, when within the final minutes of the final slugout, a team named LCMG was able to do a 37.6 s run, besting team 'Rayn on Mars’ 37.9. The roar and applause of the audience was intense. The 12 finalists took home tonnes of goodies and the winners got one of the Mars rover robots!
This however, is not where the story ends. For those interested in running their own competition event, MathWorks would love to help you! All design files and programs are available on github (Last minute changes and bug fixes pending). So reach out let MathWorks help you make it happen! Looking forward to the next competition.
Mars rovers: The next generation
3D Printed Trophy