The inaugural RobotsConf event was held on Dec 6th-7th at Amelia Island, Florida. As a whole, the event aimed to be “A Software Developer’s Hardware Conference,” bringing software developers of all backgrounds (skill levels, programming languages, and yes even editor choice) together to interact with each other and build inventive projects — by all accounts it was an incredible success. We had the pleasure of attending and running a workshop highlighting the skills of wiring, soldering, and prototyping. While this may sound a bit dry, it actually afforded us the opportunity to see all of the other conference goers build their awesome projects throughout the course of the weekend.
As a wrap up to the conference we wanted to highlight a couple of the coolest things that we experienced.
One really awesome component of RobotsConf was all of the available technology. Not only was there a bounty of the latest gadgets on display, but all attendees were given free developer kits, which held various items including an Arduino Uno, a LeapMotion, and a Spark Core. Throughout the weekend we came across an array of items such as the Oculus Rift, BeagleBone boards, XBee shields, Tessel prototypes, Spheros, and even quadcopters. While we use Arduinos almost exclusively for our projects at ISL, it was really interesting to see how much of a de facto standard it was (and is) for other developers.
RobotsConf gave us the opportunity to interact with a Spark Core for the first time. The Spark Core is a very small, wifi-enabled development board similar to Arduino in both its look and feel (aside from the different chipset on the board). We found the biggest benefit to be that Spark Core comes with on-board wifi that works! This has been a big pain point during many of ISL’s recent projects. If you want internet, you need to use an ethernet shield, which tethers you.
All conference attendees received one of these devices in their gift bags and the Spark Core promptly became the go-to device for getting things up and running throughout the event. As the Spark Core was used widely during the conference many perks were quickly discovered. For example, the learned possibility to remotely flash new firmware onto the board over the internet. In fact, the editor of choice is the web-based IDE from which you can deploy the code to the board with just the click of a button — Awesome! Once this was discovered people in the room immediately started creating easily accessible libraries for the Spark Core including a node.js library, a web-based tool and a cylon.js library.
In its inaugural year, RobotConf boasted an extremely impressive spectrum of speakers and attendees. The roughly 150 people present represented Denmark, Columbia, Canada, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Myanmar, Australia, and almost every state in America. Of these 150 people 35% were non-male. Even though it was a first-time conference, that statistic speaks volumes about its viability moving forward.
One of the most riveting keynotes during the conference came from a 12 year old girl and her father. Sylvia (@MakerSylvia) and James Todd (@techninja42) are a father-daughter team that worked together to build a watercoloring robot. A WATERCOLORING ROBOT! They even had the opportunity to show it off to President Obama at the White House Science Fair. The team’s energy was infectious and set the tone for the rest of the conference as everyone else then went on to build with great excitement.
The workshops, which were used for building, had the truest and most amazing sense of community. While there were experts on site to help create bots, it was really the other attendees who offered their assistance and expertise to fellow conference-goers that kept things moving with great ease. The camaraderie was unparalleled to any conference I had ever been to before. We came across people teaching one another everything from soldering to coding. It was truly fantastic to see people acting in a fashion befitting a community.
One of the best moments of the conference was the presentation of the final products at the Science Fair. A panel of judges walked around the room talking to individuals and teams asking about what they had built. Many people where just happy to have gotten a robot built, while others boasted some more impressive bots. Some of the crazier projects we came across were a third person camera that follows you around using an Oculus Rift, a quiz game tug of war in which a Sphero moves slowly towards the winner, a LeapMotion controlled water glass playing machine, and a facial detection robot that uses RaspberryPi. The father-daughter team from before? They made a dog rescuing quadcopter (seen below).
We had a great time at RobotsConf and hopefully we’ll be a fixture in conferences to come. We get to do some really amazing things here at ISL everyday working on projects like Redds, Nickelodeon, Redskins, and the GE Fridge, and it was really great to get to meet up with a group of likeminded people looking to make amazing things together.
Header image from MAKE