FIRST robotics competition leaps onto new CompactRIO controller


PHOTO: Adriana M. Groisman/FIRST

In a Spectrum online article, Ray Almgren and Mark Walters, two execs at National Instruments, write about FIRST's new 32-bit PowerPC-based controller, which promises to make the competition even more ... competitive! From the article:

For the 2009 high school FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competition beginning in January, a 32-bit PowerPCâ''based embedded controller is replacing the 8-bit microcontroller thatâ''s been used to run the robots for the past eight years. The event organizers expect that the technology will let more than 43 000 participating high school students tackle tougher challenges than those of previous years. The specific task the robots must perform while working against other robots will be announced on 3 January. Previous challenges included throwing balls into goals (Aim High), placing rings onto racks (Rack â''Nâ'' Roll), and stacking pyramids onto goals (Triple Play).


The new flexibility and processing power means that robots should be better able to handle the complex control and signal-processing algorithms required to operate autonomouslyâ''that is, without being â''drivenâ'' from the sidelines by handlers; in previous competitions, robots were required to spend 15 seconds operating autonomously, but one-third of the teams didnâ''t attempt to score during this period. The souped-up processing power also means that the robots will be able to handle more complex image data in real time, identifying shapes or doing optical character recognitionâ''they will be robots that can read.

Competitors will be able to program the CompactRIO controller using standard C++ language or a custom version of National Instruments Corp.â''s LabView graphical programming software, adapted specifically for the competition. The FIRST organization will in either case start the students out with built-in libraries of example codes and preprogrammed sequences. These resources will let teams get started developing the robots quickly, easing the learning curve. To exploit the full potential of the robots and win competitions, however, team members will have to come up with code of their own.

Read the rest of the storyhere.



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