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World War Robot by Ashley Wood

On Where Pianos Roam

A few weeks ago, I was in Atlanta, GA at a Barnes and Nobles in Little Five Points when I came across a book of paintings called World War Robot by Ashley Wood and TP Louise.

Mind you, I've never really been into war-themed art, but the inclusion of robots really grabbed my attention.  I love the robot designs in Transformers, but the work in World War Robot is stark, haunting, gritty, and to me, grippingly beautiful.

These paintings by Ashley Wood follow a narrative of a war in which opposing sides use robot warfare to their fullest advantage.  At the epicenter of this gargantuan battle is a company that is supplying all of the best robot technology to both sides.

These images are realism and surrealism blended together to create an imaginative and visionary body of work. 

FIRST Robotics

On Flourish

The FIRST robotics season has begun! I'm working with a high school team to build a robot in 6 weeks that will compete in sports-like competitions. Robots compete on random teams of three against other teams, in several qualifying matches and then elimination rounds. The theme for this year is "Aerial Assist", and the game encourages passing and teamwork among alliances, which appeals to me as the Iowa St. basketball team is currently 2nd in assists per game and makes passing a point of emphasis. A nice animation of the 2014 FIRST game is here.

I have been frustrated throughout the preseason of FIRST by the number of students on the team. There are about 90 kids that show up, and with only ~15 mentors the it gets pretty overwhelming. This is much larger than typical FIRST teams.

But, this year, in build season, we are dividing everyone up into "corps", with one mentor per corps. Corps are dedicated to different pieces of functionality in the robot, and combine students who work in mechanical, fabrication, controls, and software. For example, this year we have a shooter corps, a drive corps, a ball-pickup corps, an autonomous corps, among others. The autonomous corps is responsible for getting the robot to work during the autonomous period of the game: everything from mounting a camera system to detect which goal is "hot" to automatically driving the robot around to score the ball and end up at the best place for the teleop part of the game. I'm the mentor for the autonomous corps. Having a smaller group of students who are focused on a specific subset of the functionality is much more enjoyable than having twenty students who are good at code but don't know what task to be working on. Everybody can understand their piece better when the robot functionality is divided up.

We are also using Agile, which I've been advocating. Within Agile, teams write down a backlog of tasks to do, then plan for the week-long "sprint" selecting tasks from the backlog and committing to getting those tasks done. At the start of each day, team members talk about what they did yesterday, what they will work on today, and what is getting in their way, in a short standup meeting. The combination of splitting up tasks into week-long and then further into day-long tasks and taking personal responsibility to get them done also helps keep everybody focused and busy.

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