Pi Wars 2017 – Amazing maze!

Early on in the proceedings Jon had suggested we build a maze full size for testing (along with twin robots). So armed with wood, glue and screws he built a maze and even made it in bits so that it fit in his car! At least one pair of jeans paid the price due to the very foamy Gorilla glue. Anyway his hard work paid off…..

This is completely autonomous using three ToF sensors.

The small OLED display was working well for each challenge, allowing the operator to select the challenge by way of a small graphic menu. This is it in extreme close-up.

IMG_20170312_204322 IMG_20170312_204339

Jon designed a bitmap editor to create the mini icons and then we painstakingly joined the dots. You can find the editor here:  https://leachj.github.io/OLED_Pixel_editor/


Pi Wars 2017 – Time to panic…

So with a couple of challenges down and a reasonable remote control we were feeling fairly happy then we realised that we had less than a month to go! The Pi Party had taken out some of our development time so we had to press on. Keith got on with designing a catapult for the skittles challenge.


20160302 - Skittles launcher

Skittles Challenge Launcher


Rapid prototyping meant that one email to Phil containing the DXF’s  for the laser cutter and the design was being put together for review that evening.


..and in the real world.

But we still had the golf challenge to put together something for…..



Pi Wars 2017 – Carry on follow that line…..

While there has been lots of cutting and 3D printing to do, Phil had also agreed to code the line follower challenge. With TractorBot I we had experimented with the Open CV computer vision software  but the results were disappointing. However, with Pi 3 power we thought we might be able to get a Pi Camera to perform the line following duties at reasonable frame rates. Initial trials were encouraging and Keith designed a servo controlled camera case for the front of TractorBot.



The idea being that when the line follower choice was made from the menu, the servo would activate and the line would be illuminated by a Blinkt in the nose. After a few attempts and a lot of tuning we were happy with the result. https://youtu.be/Yrbg0VhtKmk

This is a graphic (sorry) illustration of how far the Pi has developed in just a few years.


Pi Wars 2017 – Boards….

We left our robot looking like a moving nest of wires, so what to do about it. Keith’s beautiful 3d renders always miss out the wiring that is a necessary evil when putting one of these together. Thankfully Keith was also able to come up with a solution! Our own interface PCB to get rid of a fair number of wires and sort out the build. Ki-CAD to the rescue. Keith produced some boards to support the Blinkts we were using as well as a main board to fit HAT style on the Pi.

After fitting the various header pins and ribbon cables it really does look the part, much neater.

2017 - 1

Pi Wars 2017 – In which Jon goes shopping

The third member of the team, Jon, had taken the lead on the software design. He started with our original TractorBot 2015 software and restructured it, to allow better collaboration via GitHub. Jon has created several useful libraries for the Pi and if you are interested you should check out his github page. https://github.com/leachj

Jon already had some good ideas for how to give the robot senses to allow it to navigate the maze, and so purchased some Time of Flight  sensors. We used these magical I2C devices in 2015 to keep our speeding robot from crashing into the walls when it came to the straight line challenge. Don’t just take our word for it…




The VL6180X Time of Flight Distance Ranging Sensor is a Time of Flight distance sensor like no other you’ve used! The sensor contains a very tiny laser source, and a matching sensor. The VL6180X can detect the “time of flight”, or how long the laser light has taken to bounce back to the sensor. Since it uses a very narrow light source, it is good for determining the distance of only the surface directly in front of it. Unlike sonars that bounce ultrasonic waves, the ‘cone’ of sensing is very narrow. Unlike IR distance sensors that try to measure the amount of light bounced, the VL6180X is much more precise and doesn’t have linearity problems or ‘double imaging’ where you can’t tell if an object is very far or very close.


Jon set to work improving his VL6180 sensor library and bread boarded 3 sensors using an I2C multiplexer unit from Adafruit to complete the test rig. While his credit card was in his hand he also purchased a small OLED display so we could select the current challenge mode. It’s a really cute display and very clear, just wait until you see it in real life. The menu system even has tiny icons!

Screenshot from 2017-03-22 21-10-32

While Keith’s beautiful renders look fantastic, the reality is that once you start hooking up the wiring what was a sleek machine begins to look more like a rats nest.

What to do about all those wires…



Pi Wars 2017 – I love the smell of burning ply!

Well we have a design beautifully modeled in Fusion 360 by Keith our  designer extraordinaire.

screenshot (1)

Time to make it real……




No you’re not seeing double, our secret weapon is two robots! Since both Phil and Jon will be working on different challenges, it was decided to create two robots so the software could be developed in parallel.

We now had our chassis and motors, time to add  a Pi and motor controller and let the magic happen.

At least we had something that moved!


Pi Wars 2017 – Motors!

We were in the running. Our first choice and one of the most difficult always seems to be motors. With last year’s bot being too big we needed smaller motors and were initially drawn to these tiny metal geared ones from Pimoroni.


Tiny metal geared motors


Keith’s ability with Fusion 360 allowed rapid prototyping of new robot chassis made from plywood, some 3D printed brackets, and testing of a new bot began.



Raw DXF ready for cutting



The finished result.


Unfortunately, the small motors were not up to the job and we needed a larger power plant. The motors eventually chosen were much beefier but that dictated the size of the final bot. With the new motors, Keith was able to model the components in Fusion.


Motors and batteries.

The size of the motors and our existing battery packs pretty much determined the size of the new robot chassis.

So now we have a chassis and Phil can get on and laser cut the next prototype…







PiWars development

Our blogging has been a bit slow this year but Team Ipswich Makerspace has been very busy beavering away on our new robot. Once again Keith is designing TractorBot (possibly being renamed this year) in Fusion360. Keith has had trouble with files becoming corrupt in previous years, but with 2 x PiWars worth of experience things are going well so far. The model is even parametric, believe it or not the two images below are renderings from the same model, just with a couple or parameters edited to change the primary dimensions.

Short and high

Short and high

Large and flat

Large and flat

We started off using micro metal gear motors, and this is what we thought it would look like, once again using the trusty 7.2v NiCd batteries.

Potential layout(1)

And the first hardware was born.

And little while later we had movement. It’s always good (and a relief) when you see a robot move for the first time.

TractorBot 2017 from Keith Ellis on Vimeo.

Jobs List for Our New Home

A big list of things to talk about and prioritise but I propose a working party next saturday (11th) to make a start. If you want to get involved but can’t make this Saturday have a chat with one of the committee members to let them know. Chances are we’ll be doing stuff on Thursday evenings too as long as it’s not intrusive. Also mention anything you think we’ve forgotten.



  • Main table and chairs – we need to decide what we want the place to look like, but having a big cluster of tables has worked well in the past. I’d quite like to make tables similar to the ones we used in the church hall as buying them is damned expensive. 18mm ply works well or something like scaffold planks are quite ethnic too. Having tables we can move/stack would be extremely useful for hiring out the space purposes. Chairs are available cheaply from the Foxhall recycling centre and I may have a bunch of stacking chairs we could use.
  • Electronics workbenches – up to four stations with a good set of basic tools like a psu, soldering iron, monitor etc setup along the wall between the heaters so people can just rock up and get to work. Not exactly a quiet area, but definitely a work area.
  • Tim make sticky labels for our property
  • Tim make sticky labels for other people’s property saying (On loan)
  • Lighting (I know it’s not furniture), it’s a bit poor at the moment. We can double up on the lights we already have (somehow). If we go down the cluster of tables route we can put in a row of decent lights over it. We should also replace the current bulbs with LEDs for energy efficiency.

Tools and Equipment

  • Sort through and organize all our stuff
  • Laser cutter
  • Small tools
  • Dangerous Prototypes power things
  • Consumables


  • Fridge (Jon has one to donate)
  • Microwave
  • Toaster
  • Kettle
  • Recycling bins


  • A letter box
  • Coat of paint
  • Fix dripping tap
  • Tidy/repair/clean the loo (filler etc)
  • Lay an easier to clean floor in the loo, vinyl or similar
  • Fix the heat loss
  • Tidy/repair the kitchen
  • Sockets in the kitchen
  • Fix sliding doors to storeroom
  • Staircase non-slip paint
  • Install dexion shelving in storeroom
  • Solve condensation problem in the storeroom
  • A membership system
  • Unwire the tables and replace with floor boxes
  • Replace TalkTalk router with DrayTek router from church bungalow
  • Some form of wired networking to the tables and workbenches
  • Shelving system for member storage boxes
  • Purchase cleaning supplies and set up cleaning rota
  • Create leaving checklist to ensure space is secure and nothing is left on.
  • Install makerspace sign

Ipswich Makerspace 2017 Fund Raising

For several weeks we have been in negotiation with the owner of 11 Dove Street to acquire the lease and finally have a place to call home. Barring accidents we will be signing the lease this week.

What does this mean for the Makerspace?

Having our own space gives us the chance to develop the Makerspace in ways we’ve not been able to before. We can look at getting more tools and equipment, offer more activities and reach out to more makers. And of course we want to make all that equipment accessible and convenient so you don’t waste half the session getting set-up.

To make Dove Street the exciting and above all useful space we all want is going to take money. There’s the up front cost to acquire the lease, some for things like insurance and security, practical items such as tables and chairs and then for the additional tools and equipment.

A new membership package

We’ll be rolling out a new membership package over the next few weeks, but to give you a flavour of what’s coming:

  • You will be able to book time on the 3D printers and other machinery
  • Borrow the 3D printers to work on at home
  • Book bench space by the meeting or the month
  • Pay for meetings by standing order at a reduced rate
  • Have your own storage crate to leave your gear at the space


We have decided to offer everyone a chance to fund the Makerspace by purchasing “Founder’s Bonds”. We have such confidence and enthusiasm for this venture that the committee members have already pledged £6000 with a further £2000 under discussion. Each bond costs £100 and the funds will be placed in a special account and allocated to projects by the Makerspace Committee. We want people to look on the Makerspace as a long term venture and so the minimum term of the bonds will be three years. After that time bond holders will be able to apply to have their bond repaid and the Makerspace will make reasonable endeavours to do so subject to common sense and the availability of funds. As a benefit, bond holders will be entitled to a 3% discount off their annual membership fee for every £100 bond they hold for as long as they hold it.

The lease deposit, legal fees and fixtures and fittings will cost us up to £4900. We will also need some working capital to cover any shortfall in the running costs until the we can expand our membership.

What is to become of the rest of the funds?

Firstly, we want to secure the building, particularly the front door which is currently the weakest spot. In the long term we also want to install an entry system to allow members to come and go 24/7. We will need to replace the furniture as it belongs to the current lease holder, but we will be keeping the kitchen. The next step is where it gets exciting. As many of you know I’m very keen to get a laser cutter and, funds allowing, I will push to get one as soon as is practical. Jon Leach has offered to lend us his CNC machine, Dan Sloane has lent us his Rigol scope, add that to our 3 x 3D printers and you have a fantastic resource for makers. The space could also benefit from a wide range of smaller tools such as crimping tools, assorted screwdrivers, power supplies and many more. We already have a stock of resistors and capacitors, JST sockets, assorted wire etc. but it would be very useful to also stock things like nuts, bolts, screws and washers, stand-offs. There’s truly nothing worse than making good progress on a project only to have to stop because you’re missing some tiny piece of hardware.

The regular Thursday evening makerspace meetings will continue as usual and we will also try out a range of alternative events to see what works best. If you have an idea you’d like to help get off the ground or a project you’d like to see happen then please talk to a member of the committee.

We want to get our funding in place as quickly as possible to be able move forward and so we need all applications for Founder’s Bonds to be received by midnight on Friday 17th February. Always remember that this is your makerspace and your help can make it really fly.

If you’d like to contribute by purchasing Founder’s Bonds then please contact me Steve Chalkley via Facebook, or at info@ipswichmakerspace.com