Sun SPOT demo at Mindbend 2009

Mindbend is the annual technical festival of SVNIT (Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology). This year it was conducted from the 1st to the 4th of April. Alongside Mindbend, our institute also celebrated Sparsh 09, our annual cultural festival. It too was spread across 4 days, with Bombay Rockers and Rhythm Nation performing on the last night. So while we unleashed our creative and innovative ideas during the daytime at Mindbend, the evenings were for having fun at Sparsh. We strongly believe in the adage, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Being the Sun Campus Ambassador to SVNIT, I decided to conduct a Sun event at Mindbend. I chose SPOT, a technology I was introduced to by Jay Mahadeokar at Sun Tech Days 09. The reasons for choosing SPOT was simple, it’s cool and it attracts electronics and computer guys alike. I also ordered a huge amount of Sun goodies to distribute during Mindbend

But then SPOT also means delving into electronics, a subject which is not my forte (I only code. Period). So I had to enlist the help of my friend Nirzaree Vadgama who is a student of Electronics Engineering in her second year. We decided to make a SPOT controlled car where one SPOT is placed on the car and controls the motors and the other SPOT is used as the remote, which when tilted moves the car in the desired direction. Apart from the car we also made simple programs for demonstrating individual components of the Sun SPOT like accelerometer, temperature and light sensor, wireless communication. The money for buying electronic components for the car was sponsored by the ACM SVNIT Student Chapter of which I am the Chairman. Also many activities of our local Sun Club will henceforth be sponsored by the ACM Chapter. It took us two evenings to get the car done. In the process we learnt how to perfectly burn a L293D motor driving circuit (we burnt two circuits) and how not to crush your finger with a hammer while driving in a nail. My job was mainly to write the code and it was quite easy considering that it was Java programming and the SPOT API is well documented. I also modified the code for the remote control such that one could hold the remote control SPOT horizontally and move around and the SPOT would follow.

So finally, we had our Tech Demo on the 2nd of April. Murphy’s law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong) came into act and our car stopped working 3 hours prior to the event and Niz was almost at the point of a nervous breakdown. However, nearly 15 minutes before our event, the car started functioning properly. The Mindbend organizers had demonstrated their immense insight and intelligence by giving us a 1PM-3PM slot (right after lunch) and placing a robotics contest and coding contest in parallel with our event. This resulted in a significantly lower audience of nearly 50 from the registered 90+ audience. Most of the audience had seen us working on the SPOT and already had a basic idea of the device. We were quizzed on the features, the kind of I/O pins, memory and what not. Some of the audience suggested us some really whacky and innovative ideas on how we could connect an antenna to the SPOT (though I am not sure if any of those would work). Also we had two persons among the audience who read the Mindbend leaflet and though we were physicist giving a talk on solar Sun SPOT. Nevertheless, we entertained them and they left happily with lots of gyaan and Sun goodies. The one thing I observed was that SPOT really lit up the faces of the audience. Even a physics faculty got interested (and no he did NOT mistake it for the spots on the Sun). However, they were a bit disappointed with the price tag of SPOT which at nearly 15k is a tad too high for India (Sun Labs, are you listening?).

Overall, the demo went well. We also asked students to register for OSUM and are planning to set up a local OSUM site as our college blocks I would also like to thank my friends, Punit Mehta and Ruta Desai for helping out on making the circuit and are now part of our core Sun Club. I also thank Jay for answering all my queries (some very silly ones actually).

With this demo, I have got many people interested in learning Java as a language for embedded systems and made them realize the immense potential of Java. Now everyone wants the Sun SPOT kit for a few days of experimentation.


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