23 Oct 2002 jbm   » (Master)

Here is the longer story: how it started

I'm a 0x24 years old French geek. I'm a software engineer in the embedded field with a background in industrial automation and electronics among other things. A GNU/Linux user since 97 I think, heavily since 99, mainly since 2000.

During the summer of 2001, I looked for an embedded target to play with. My goals were:
  • to explore a classic but non-Intel architecture (my job involve Intel's CPU at a very low, architecture dependant level),
  • to experiment GNU and OSS tools in an embedded development context, after a few interesting experiments with Linux kernel driver and RTLinux modules.

I chose a German made Motorola 68K board, the NF300. Designed in an academic setting for pedagogical purposes, it offered the ubiquitous and GNU- supported 68K/CPU32 architecture with a good level of hardware documentation for a reasonable price. It also offers quite a few peripherals to play with without bothering adding custom-made hardware.

I started scanning through the whole NF300 and Motorola documentation, played first with the delivered DOS tools, then build a cross-GCC tool chain from scratch on Linux and its BDM cross-debugger and... And then time passed but I still didn't have a realistic but challenging project to actually do something out of it.

In the meantime my brother Gregoire became interested and this little board with the flashing LED sitting across my monitor. Working as a research engineer for the French National Geographic Institute, he's a geek too but in the scientific computing field. Dominique, a friend since 0x0f years was quite curious too. Dominique comes from electronic and happens to be good at mechanics too (though he would deny it) and yes, he can be described as a geek too.

The three of us shared common interests and curiosity for each other's knowledge, and started to think of building something together. In the winter of 2001, we saw a small robotic competition. That was it. A robot. We could do one. We (are supposed to) have the skills.

We wanted to have a "bill of contract for it". Requirements, deadline. We wanted rules, to have a clear goal and motivation. We needed a competition to provide these rules.

I started to look for robot competitions in France or near Europe, and quickly realized (without much surprised) that there weren't much, and worse they were all for students. We are not students. Sorry, not much we can do about that. The more interesting competition by far was the two competitions organized by the ANSTJ (Association Nationale Sciences et Techniques Jeunesse = Youth Science and Technical non-profit Organization): the Coupe de France de Robotique (in French) and the Eurobot . These are in fact one contest in two, a national and a European, sharing the same rules. I contacted the organizing ANSTJ and was informed that, though not automatically guaranteed, non-students teams could possibly compete, depending among other things on their input to the general and technical mood of the thing.

The project was launched. I chose "botzilla" as its name (though there are tons of *zillas out there that's a fun and easy to remember name).

To be continued.

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