Sorry for not contributing on this subject earlier but we've had some
hardware problems here. Here's the diatribe!
The basic problem is whether the schools competitions can get enough
promotion to survive. This boils down to airtime on the TV plus people
promoting it at events where many teachers are present. If Techno games
promotes it then we may be in with a chance.
I am prepared to promote the competition on our website and with
leaflets/posters at the exhibitions that we use. Unfortunately BETT, the
biggest education event, was a couple of weeks ago.
Schools competitions must be sufficiently easy for schools to enter and
fit in with the school year. There must be good materials available for the
schools to use and ideally there should be technical support available to
the teachers. This last point is where most initiatives fall down. The
"neighbourhood engineer" scheme simply does not deliver any useful support
Where support came in from enthusiasts it was often wasted because local
schools were not interested or the financial resources were simply not
there. Where a complete package was provided, such as in South Wales, very
successful competitions have been run.
Competitions must have clear judging criteria. A "beauty show" is very
different from the sort of engineering excellence that I would like to
promote. The original 2D schools competitions had clear judging criteria
and produced clear winners. These were very successful competitions when
they were actively promoted. They probably produce better TV than the 3D
events as each competitor typically runs for less than 30 seconds and the
fastest ones about a fifth of that. There are also plenty of crashes.
Techno Games have never shown a schools 2D event.
I personally think that the rat race competition is a bit of a blind
alley. It is challenging and difficult but the best 2D competitors also
make the best rat racers and the nature of the problems is broadly similar.
It makes sense to have the fewest number of competitions to avoid
dissipation of effort.
People like new competitions because it allows new entrants to try without
competing against the expertise of teams that have been running in the
competition for several years. This is a general problem and complex
handicapping schemes are the usual result. However competitions that run on
and on will end up giving the best results so it is better to concentrate
on a small number of existing events.
The main problem with the 2D event is that it does not directly feed into
the proper competition. It may be better to actively promote the
wall-followre 3D event for schools instead.
I think that the main reason that schools have not made wall-followers is
because they don't know how to. Where would you find a design for a
wall-follower if you didn't know a where to start? We should be publishing
designs of very simple wall followers to help students get started. Full
design details of simple machines like DIM and Drive-by-Wire may be enough
to encourage teachers to try out the competition.
If teachers could be persuaded to come along to things like the March
event, they would go back to the schools with a lot more confidence in how
to get started and where to source mouse components from.
If we can put together a strategy to promote these competitions, I may be
able to produce a kit, along the lines of DASH FREE, to make a wall follower.
I would be very much in favour of running a schools competition at the
same time as the proper one. Failing that a distributed competition run
over the internet is an easy option. I am prepared to manage a web page on
the day to publish the times and pictures as they come in if this happens.
I have rambled on enough. Can I suggest that we devote an hour or so of
the March event to producing a strategy for promoting ourselves to schools?
Perhaps Jerry Niman, Chris Walker etc. can come along to tell us what is
One final practical point. The IEE presumably have a stock of the mats
used to make competition courses. Can we get hold of them before they are
scrapped? Has anyone got space to store them?