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 Interviews : Our first victim
Pat   We start these interviews with someone who knows the Cup for some times now, and who can speak about it in all objectivity? Our first guest is Patrick Quéméré (best known as Pat on the ANSTJ forum), ANSTJ volunteer since 1996, and member of the organization and referee comity for the 2000 Cups and Trophies. He kindly accepted to answer our questions.

This interview was made in French. We translate it here in English. We do apologize for the mistakes we may have made in this translation. Pat's English is no doubt much better than what you could read here !

(Interview collected by Philippe and Bruno)

 

 A small history
Fribotte Team : What made you come at the ANSTJ ?
Patrick :
   After my engineering school, I had to do my military service but I did not want to make it in the army. So I choose the conscientious objection and the ANSTJ suggested me 2 jobs : either to be responsible for the "robotics" sector, or to be a technical employee within the "space" sector. I chose the last one because I thought that it was more in connection with my curriculum and particularly fluid mechanics. I spent a little less than 2 years there, in a good environment and I became acquainted with many friendly persons.
  I got also interested with what was done in robotics. It was the age of the very first Cups and Trophies (not comparable at all with what is done today). I met very nice people when I worked for the ANSTJ and as a plain consequence I become ANSTJ volunteer in the robotics sector. But that does not mean that I am not interested any more in the other sectors. I continue to work for the Space sector, via the "a balloon for the school" activity (which are stratospheric balloons), and many other ones.

Fribotte Team : What do you like at the ANSTJ?
Patrick :
  There are many things that I like there. To start with the projects carried out by this association, where children are involved. One can tackle scientific and technical problems. And with regard to community activities (because I am a youth leader), there are interesting aspects of popularization.
   Then, there are more complex events addressed to another public, like the students : the E=M6 Cup, experimental rockets... it is also interesting, and from a technical point of view, we can learn there many things. All that is relative to the actions; beside, there are the people who live these actions. I find them rather fantastic, I learn much with those people.

 

 The Cup / Eurobot
Fribotte Team : Which are the details which marked you during the last Cups?
Patrick :
  For the past few years, we have seen more and more MIO [Note : Mobile or Immobile Objects] which manage to run : this leads to a miniaturization, and the game and the show get more interesting.
   There is certainly growing experience from the old teams, but that does not prevent from seeing new challengers each year. We can very well see a team which no one knew in the past come with a very competitive robot to everyone's surprise. I believe that it will be very difficult to be indifferent to the show.

Fribotte Team : In all the previous Cups, which robot marked you the most?
Patrick :
  For sure, there is a robot which marked the Cup, it was in 1995 [Note: "The balloons"], the INT robot was finalist and exceeded all its opponents by far. It won its final match in a few seconds. It was quite impressive to watch.
   I am always more attracted by original robots which use a strategy that one does not expect, but an "evolved" strategy, because even if Epita's strategy was original [Note: cf 1999 Cup, the EPITA's vibrator robot], in terms of robotics, it was less complex than other robots as original.

Fribotte Team : Do you think that there has been some evolution year after year ?
Patrick :
  Clearly, just look at the archives of the first Cups ! Since the Sumo Robots, we see clear evolutions. The robots were going straight on with a rather reduced intelligence. Now we can see strategies much more advanced, which take into account the behavior of the opponent.

Fribotte Team : Do you think that this evolution is due to the re-use of the robots from the previous Cups, or rather to a better knowledge of the robotics techniques ?
Patrick :
  [he thinks]. It is clear that there are more and more people who are interested in robotics, or at least which participates to the Cup. The first year, there was 14 schools, now there are more than 160.
  There is first a mass effect, and inevitably the level rises. Moreover, the tools used are more and more powerful. Just see what can be done with a PIC [he shows our MIO]...
  The knowledge also is being accumulated from years to years, and it prevents from doing the same mistakes as in the past. But the student environment is quite movable, many start from scratch each time. You are somewhat particular, you have been doing the Cup for some time now, you belong to those who accumulate the knowledge.

Fribotte Team : What do you think of the rules of this year ?
Patrick :
  It is a difficult question [ laughter ]. In fact, when we work out one the rules, we are always worried of knowing how they will be perceived by the teams. I heard some rather favorable words.
  I think that you will agree to say that the rules of this year differs much from the rules of the last past years : there are no more balls, the ground is more complex than usually. It is necessary to see which are our concerns when we work on the rules : it has to be attractive, spectacular, and it is necessary that the public understands the goal very rapidly and is able to decide who is the looser and the winner in a flash. Besides, in another point of view, we want the rules to be accessible to beginners, and we also wants the experienced teams to continue to enjoy themselves and develop new techniques. It is necessary to try conciliate all these points, and I think that the rules of this year manage to fill these objectives.

Fribotte Team : If you had to participate, which type of robot would you have made for this contest?
Patrick :
  I did not think about it I think I will have made a funny robot, with forms and colors. That would have been my first objective. For the strategy, I would have thought there for what to make? hummm... To try to win obviously :-)

Fribotte Team : This year, do you expect to see many MIOs or big robots ?
Patrick :
   This year, the rules are more favorable to MIOs as the targets are well scattered on the ground. But each year the teams promise to us many MIOs and finally we see very few of them. Yet compared to the previous years, we should see an increase in the number of MIOs.

Fribotte Team : This year, among other things, you attend to the foreign teams. How many foreign teams will come ?
Patrick :
  Unfortunately the interview has been made too soon. I must take stock with Véronique soon [Note : she is responsible of the ANSTJ Robotics sector]. Beside the teams which are used to the event (Italy, Denmark, Holland), and beside other european countries, there may be a few teams coming from across the Atlantic. Quebecers are highly interested and a team from the MIT may also participate. The story is that the MIT told us that our Cup was too easy, so we challenged them to come and defeat the other teams (it seem that we can count on them).

Fribotte Team : Are there other competitions of that kind in Europe ?
Patrick :
  There are many robotics competitions. Competitions similar to ours may be, but I am not aware of it. There is the Swiss Cup, but it is different as it is exactly the same rules as ours.

Fribotte Team : How many Swiss teams participate each year ?
Patrick :
  It's been 3 years that the Swiss Cup exists. I know that this year, there are some problems to find motivated teams. The last news are telling us there are 3 declared teams, knowing that they send 3 teams for Eurobot in France. I don't have more information for the moment.

Fribotte Team : How do you communicate with the foreign teams ?
Patrick :
  The first problem is to establish contact, to find some people. The Cup may have a media coverage in France, but it is not the case for the other European countries. So we have to be known. There are not many means for that :
  the first source of contacts is when we hear about a robotics competition abroad : we go there and we try to advertise for Eurobot to the competing teams.
  Another source, it to contact embassies and particularly French institutes based abroad and scientific cooperations : thanks to these french institutions we have been able to be related to universities. They advertised for us. And in certain cases, it worked well.
  Then, the information goes by word of mouth, by relations. For example I tried to contact all my relations. Whenever I saw a German, I asked him if he knew a university, if he had friend who...
   But it is true that it is not obvious at all for a Bavarian to come from Bavaria to France. Telling a foreigner to make a robot and come to France is not always attractive. We must sell the product, in a way. For that we fortunately have a video-tape (the reports on the cup) which are attractive enough.

Fribotte Team : Have you already had feedbacks from the teams about what they think about the Cup or Eurobot?
Patrick :
  It is clear that when they leave, they say that it was good. But we know that some points are not perfect. We know that we can improve. Therefore we try to gather information on the points we have to improve. It is not obvious : we have to gain team's confidence to make them tell what goes wrong. It is what we expect, because the points which are ok delight us but it doesn't improve the event. It seems that the teams come back, so they must be satisfied of the organization.
  We do all our best to improve the event : this year, for the 3rd Eurobot competition, there will be a true effort of the town and the ANSTJ to improve the teams reception : the town asked us to welcome a certain number of countries , we already started to work on it. We also think about how to improve the team reception, to welcome the foreign team a little better than the French teams. It is normal indeed : it is good that the foreigners come to La Ferté Bernard, but it would be good that they take benefit from their stay in France. So we plan a short touristic tour, a welcome drink. We would like to make the european teams meet the french teams...
  Unlike what happened the previous years, this year we try to integrate the foreign teams into the French event : the european stands will be scattered everywhere between the French ones. Here are different points we work on to make the europeans feel at ease, to favor contact between the French and the Europeans so that everybody enjoys the party !

Fribotte Team : For them, Eurobot lasts only 2 days. Does it create problems ?
Patrick :
  Indeed, it is not obvious. There is a shifting with the French teams who have been there since 2 or 3 days and who have a history there. If we talk about the history, when we organized the first European competition, it was on Sunday. The French teams had their final the day before, most of them were already gone, and the European found themselves somewhat lonely. On Saturday, it was a huge party and on Sunday everything was flat and quite. So the next year (last year), we thought that we should go on with the Cup event a little longer and request the team attendance also on Sunday.
  That is why we tried to organize the off Cup. But it is a new event to organize and it is not simple. That is why we would like the off Cup to be organized by the teams themselves. Besides, we work on 2 sides : on one side we have to keep this emulation for the competition, on the other hand there is a wish from the town of La Ferté who says that "saturday is for the French students, and they are numerous, Sunday should be for the town people".
  We would like the off Cup to be continued. Some people talked about a cup based on the small robots (MIO). Personally, I favor this kind of actions, but as far as the ANSTJ is concerned, we can't organize this. It must be done by the competitors.

Fribotte Team : Now the opposite question : how do you see the foreign teams compared to the French ones ?
Patrick :
   Unfortunately, on Eurobot 98-99 I didn't really have much contacts with those teams. The only feedbacks I had were from you [he speaks to Bruno] [Note : Bruno was a referee in 99] who said that the French teams were easily anxious, whereas the European teams were rather cool. I keep that in mind : I think this is the real atmosphere of the event, not to stress. It is true that the French moan a lot... Let's hope that the European teams will remain as they are today.

Fribotte Team : How is the French robotics cup perceived in other countries ? Is it well known ? Or do you make them discover it ?
Patrick :
   Team that already compete know it, but for others we need to make it known. We show them videos, we give them rules. Most of the time, they are attracted by the tape, but after a thought they realize the amount of work it represents : Make an autonomous robot requires necessary skills and a lot of works. At this moment they realize that the competition is not easy at all
  For example, when I was in Japan for Robocon, I went motivating a German team : They were enthusiast. But they have a type of study that takes them a lot of time. They work a lot in University, and they do not know when in their weeks they will be able to work on a robot. Maybe there is a fewer motivation compared to French students, which have the same problem : They have lessons during the day, and they work on the competition during evening, night, and the week-end.
  It is clear that the competition level is quite high. Making autonomous robots is not the most common in robotics competition. In Robocon, one of the robot is autonomous, but it is very restricted, and the main robot is manually directed.
  In Holland, for Createch, it is remote-controlled robots. The difference between Eurobot competition is quite important, and teams need a high effort of will (So congratulations to European teams that succeed to come in France with a robot that's working !!!)

Fribotte Team : Does the robotics cup has something to envy from Robocon ?
Patrick :
  it is completely different, purposes are different. It's difficult to compare them : In Robocon, I would say that the making of a robot is only the pretext of making different nationality work together. They need to work on a project, with the language problem, and different way of work. I essentially saw relationship problems.
  In the Cup, there is a final goal that is THE robot, a knowledge improvement, a team work, and there is not language problem (normally).
  I think that purposes are different. There is also a difference in the way of working, seeing that the cup is several month of works disperse; but Robocon is only 2 weeks with foreigners and the same equipment. It's 2 different competitions. Both are very good if we go there with a good mentality.

Fribotte Team : For Robocon, there was a winner ?
Patrick :
  Yes, it was the blue team [smiles]. The teams are made of several nationalities. It is not France or the French who win. This year they changed a little compared to the previous years : usually each team is formed by a person of each country, but this year they made more teams therefore they reduced the number of team members, so all the countries were not represented in each team : There were 4 countries in each team with necessarily a Japanese (as they were hosting the competition), and 12 teams, so 48 persons.

Fribotte Team : You stayed there during 2 weeks, did you make Japanese parties?
Patrick :
  We were in Japan, a hundred kilometers in the north of Tokyo. For more information on the subject, refer to the article published in the Microbe [Note: see the links at the bottom of this page]. For the party, unfortunately the disco closed before we arrived. So to entertain yourself you have the bars with street walkers [laughs] or what is famous are the karaokes.
  The atmosphere changes a lot depending on the host country. Next year, Robocon is in Germany : the competition takes place in Hanover during the 2000 universal exhibit. Knowing the Germans, I think those who will have the opportunity to participate to the event will have fun all night, there won't be any problem !

Fribotte Team : You talked about a lack of volunteers, would you like to call to volunteering to make students want to come to the ANSTJ ?
Patrick :
  I must speak here? [he comes near the microphone] : "YOU MUST COME BECAUSE IT'S COOL !" Each year, there are 160 teams ; with at least 5 persons really involved in each team, we reach more than 700 persons who get deeply involved in a robotics project. We are talking about students who have an invaluable skill and know-how, it would be good that these skill would be re-invested in the ANSTJ to give benefit to a most important number of persons. Because there is a lot of technical things to do at the ANSTJ : developing simple products for the clubs, easily usable for the children.
  There is also an organization aspect : who can work on the rules better than the former competitors? The forum allows the teams to give their opinion, but after there is a need to structure all that. My wish is that the cup would be totally managed by the teams and the former competitors. We only ask that the members of REFEREE comity would not belong to a team for confidential reasons.
   As far as the appeal I can make, well... we need people [laughs] : it is not done by itself : the competitors at La Ferté may feel that everything goes well, that there is a lot of people ; that is true that people come to the cup to help us, but there is an upstream activity for the organization, the preparation, the writings, the re-readings, (I don't want to give all the details from the idea to the publishing of the rules and the competition, but there is a long way and a lot of work).
  To make it work well, we would need 10 persons more, knowing that there is a lot to do : we will always find something to do :) For example, for the referee comity, we would need at least 6-7 really involved persons...
  So, to have fun : come to the ANSTJ ! [Note : I think the message is clear :)]

Fribotte Team : What lacks the most in today's Cup, to your mind? Is there something you regret, or you would wish to see more often?
Patrick :
  Well, I wish the teams would follow the Fribotte example [embarassed laughs] [Note : And how can we remain credible with such words? >:-O ]. I say it sincerely : teams must grow apart from this spirit of competition/winner to let more room to a "comradship" spirit. If a robot can be built in a school, if one can take benefit of teachers experiments, so much the better, but winning the competition must not be the ultimate goal...
   Learning and having fun, that is the goal. The Cup was created by people who had this spirit. We make this event so that students may have fun. We gather all at the end for a party with robots that work or no, that doesn't matter.
   From the moment when people worked together, when they tried to structure their work, and I say tried, when they thought about the idea of project, well, we at the ANSTJ are happy to have fulfilled our mission.
  It is true that from some years, with the media coverage, we see some schools diverging more and more from this goal : one must win, be seen on TV... Hence the problem, problem for the people who gave everything of themselves from the beginning to the event, to make it a robotics party and not a place to win at any price. That is why we rely on teams such as the Fribotte [Note : Grrr], to show the true meaning of this challenge.

Fribotte Team : 5 years ago, people were saying that in 2 years time, robotics will be everywhere. Yet we didn't see a lot, up to a few months when we start seeing a "general public" robotics, particularly with the Sony Aïbo dog or other japanese project that are converging and which have above all good media coverage. Do you think there is a freeing about general robotics today ?
Patrick :
First, we see that on the toys, robotics is more and more present, "intelligence" is being integrated in toys. We see toys answering, reacting to light, getting hungry, laughing when they are tickled, there is the Sony dog...
  It is clear that more and more toys of this kind are appearing. May be the cost is still high. The cost may be still disheartening, but in future, if our cup competitors want to take the toy industry direction to invest the knowledge they gathered during the cup, it is clear that the toy's price will feel it (I don't say in which way) !
  It is clear that toy manufacturers are more and more interested in robotics : see LEGO or MECCANO. Some industrialists (some who has absolutely nothing to do with robotics, for example SURCOUF) have contacted the ANSTJ for its robotics know-how and asked them if they could take benefit from their know-how to create products including robotics
  The ANSTJ is of course favorable to the development of robotics in general, particularly when children take benefit of it, but when we receive such requests, we have to answer it and where do we find volunteers ??? During the cup ! (or at least we would wish it ...)

 

 Usefull links for more information

 

 Bonus ! Pat, a talented volunteer !
Patrick re Patrick

Last modified : february 18 2000