Let's Make Robots!

An Experience at the International Space Apps Challenge 2014, Kathmandu

Probably the world's largest "Codeathon", or what I like to call it, "Hackathon", The International Space Apps Challenge, kicked off in more than 90 countries all over the world on April 12th, 2014. Kathmandu was proud to be one of the hosting venues for a world-wide 48-hour pulsating event and so was I to be one of the participants. 16 teams had geared up in groups of all shapes and sizes to present their ideas, to bring them to life and most importantly, to change the world we live in to make it a better place. 



There were 5 fields where we all had to focus on and the ideas that sprouted on our minds hovered around these areas.



The fantastic event featured students and teachers from the software field as well as the hardware field. As soon as we ( brought my cousin along ) arrived, there was breafast waiting for us. We confirmed our registrations soon after that and we were "The Makers" for the next 48 hours. We were greeted directly by three astronauts from space (wow) , and were welcomed by NASA too, through a video. 


And then, we grabbed the official T-Shirts for the SpaceApps Challenge.



Also took home a couple of these techy posters of the event.



And we all jumped into our thinking chairs and started to think of an IDEA.

Robots, these electronic creatures never fail to amaze me. This amazing hobby of robotics is not only great because of the outcomes but also because of the collaboration that goes into building a successful project/robot. And thus, we chose ROBOTICS as the field to work around.

Inside this specific field there were a couple of other themes provided by the organizers. The ExoMars Rover Challenge struck me right away, and we decided to construct a similar rover ( not that same big-gun ) but one that was based upon an entirely different concept than that of the mars rover. I decided to make use of an IOIO board that makes it easy to use an Android Smarthphone in the form of an onboard processor for a robot. In other words, the challenge was to build a robot that could communicate with the environment via a Samsung Galaxy S through an app installed on the phone and live stream videos through an IP Camera to other devices.



On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my Java programming skills at - 5 ( that's minus 5 and my cousin had just started with C ). We needed Java, not any other language, to program the IOIO board. And furthermore, Eclipse had been boggling our minds for the entire day. It would have been interesting to pick a topic of  Go-Green and all, and while that would have been a very noble undertaking, I thought why not to make the best use of our time out there when we were surrounded by Java programmers and android app developers?

And so, before soughting for help, I headed to the holy-grail of building android apps at developer.android.com. Side by side, I looked over a java tutorial to get a feel of the language. By the end of the first day, we hadn't done quite much. But, I had started to get a feel for the IOIO board and the concept of activities in an android app and classes in Java.

The next day, we got there early at around 8 am. After 3 more hours of spending time at Android Developers, finally some results began to appear. We built a simple app to control the onboard LED of the IOIO board. The next part was to control the robot itself via the smartphone and IOIO board. Time was running out and it would definitely take us a day or two to get some working results.

To get something working, we decided to control the robot via RF modules and explain our concept of using smartphones as powerful onboard processors in comparison to pesky little microcontrollers. To our dismay, the bootloader on one of the Arduinos had failed! Project RF wasn't happening any more. Eventually, we controlled our robot through serial commands from the computer just to present something that was walking and not just talking.


Presenting our project : Android Rover


Just controlling the robot through the serial cable! ( Was never a part of the initial plan :D )

There were many other interesting projects ( once again a software dominated event.  where are you Nepalese hardware geeks ? )

Other projects included : 

Incredible Earth by DWItians 

Sun seeker by SuryaMukhi Yantra 

Cool it by Cool Nepal 

Gravity by TeamArch 

Clean City by G10E 

Visit https://2014.spaceappschallenge.org/location/kathmandu/ for further details.


Although we couldn't realize our objective completely in the event, I felt the presentation of our idea made us the 2nd runner ups. We were the youngest partcipants in the event as well. ( I am happy about this but will be happier if more high schoolers are involved in such events. Publicity of the events and jumping out of everday classroom textbooks are both needed )


Receiving certificates and prizes from the judges and organizers.


Team Cool Nepal bagged 2nd place for their project Cool It.



And Team G10E became the winners of the SpaceApps Challenge, Kathmandu with their project Clean City.



That was it. The event had come to an end. Made lots of connections in the event and it was an overwhelming experience. Never before had I been part of such a standard tech challenge. The food, the ambience, the free zooming wifi ( as compared to the one back at home ), everything was amazing. Hope to take part in the challenge next year too!

There were winners and then there were unlucky participants who could not win it but it all depends on how you define the word "win". It was a privilege to hear inspiring words from Dar Irwin, a NASA engineer who had come all the way to Kathmandu, who said, " If you are facing in the correct direction, just keep on moving forward ". That is winning and that's what everyone did, I believe.

I picked up a certificate of achievement and 85$.  I can't wait to buy something to add into my next project.

This one's for LMR.

Catch you guys later. And thanks for passing by.



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Congrats! One thing I have learned is if something is going to go wrong, it will happen during a competition. I am glad that you were able to work past your bootloader issue and impress the judges!

Hey drewtoby, thanks. You got that right, challenges always turn up during competitions. I guess all we can do is try our best and rise to the occasion.

Congrats! :)

Something similar had happened in a competition a friend and I had entered in college....we planned to use an IP camera on a robot but ended up using a mobile phone with skype to stream data to a PC...wasn't that great but something was better than nothing :p

I wish they had this event in Mumbai this year :(

Thank you robodude.

Hehe, that sounded interesting. In another event, our situation was the exact opposite! We used skype for the live stream initially, but the result ended up in a series of echoes and we shifted to using an IP camera. 

Sorry to hear that it wasn't organized in Mumbai. It was also just the 2nd time in Kathmandu. I hope you'll catch up with the event next year!

Haha I faced the same echo problem with skype...plus the video quality isn't that  great unless the internet connection is really fast!

Apparently  they held this event in 2013 here(didnt know about it)...I'll certainly keep my eyes open for such events  from now :p