New Robot Prototyping Platform for RCJ Teams

Hi guys! I am Teng Yi. I competed in RoboCup Junior (RCJ) Soccer in 2019 (LW Superteam 1st) and 2021 (Open Best Tech Chal, Superteam 1st) as part of Team Raffles representing Singapore, as well as RCJ CoSpace Rescue in 2020 and RCJ Rescue Line in 2022.

My first attempt at electronics was using an Arduino Uno in 2016. It didn’t work. LEDs burned, code didn’t compile and so on. It was only 3 years later, after learning more physics and programming and meeting my coach Kenneth, that I tried again and built my first robot.

Arduino is a great electronics prototyping platform but it has a steep learning curve, only made more steep by the baggage of turning it into a robot, since you have to integrate power systems, drive systems and more. With so many components to wire, hardware failure is hard to avoid. We fried motor drivers and batteries, and my 2019 robot often spun out of control mid-match. If we were more unlucky, I might not have continued pursuing robotics at all.

At the RoboCup Singapore Open, I see many teams facing the same plight. Failure and overcoming challenges is part and parcel of robotics, but it shouldn’t feel like an impenetrable wall, where you dedicate money, time and soul only to feel like you’ve made no progress. Yet each year, fewer teams participate in RCJ Soccer and even fewer have working robots.

So what can be done about this? Entry-level categories are being added, rules are always reviewed, but when teams progress to the standard RCJ leagues, they end up having to learn Arduino anyway, either starting from scratch or transitioning away from LEGO Mindstorms (due to its hardware limitations). The impenetrable wall remains.

This year, I was approached by Kenneth to design a clone of the discontinued LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Brick. That was our initial goal, but we realized this could be much more than a mere copycat; it was an opportunity to break the wall by integrating all the common robot electronics into one board, while maintaining the hackability and open nature that makes Arduino so beloved. Thus, we ended up with EVN.

EVN is an all-in-one robot controller combining an Arduino-compatible microcontroller, motor drivers, batteries, charger and more, all in a LEGO-compatible form factor. Users can build their robot using LEGO, and plug up to 18 sensors, 4 servos and 4 motors (compatible with LEGO Mindstorms EV3/NXT motors and standard 6-pin headers) without worrying about the rest. We also provide a set of official peripherals and software libraries for basic hardware functions so teams can get a robot up and running quickly.

However, we designed EVN with versatility and progression in mind. Don’t want to use LEGO? You don’t have to, just remove the shell. Don’t want to use our peripherals? Use any other I2C or UART device and reap its benefits instead.

“Are we selling a competition hack?” This was my initial concern, but the trial and error process is very much intact. Teams must still write their own code, design and build their own chassis and solutions. But with EVN, users no longer have to learn everything at once and the chance of hardware failure is lower. This reliability also comes with downsides; teams may want higher current motor drivers or a more flexible footprint, and we encourage them to progress and design their own solutions. However, there is merit to a starting platform where users do not need to worry about hardware failure constantly, and the included motor drivers should be plenty to start with. Instead, teams can focus on learning text-based programming and chassis design at a comfortable pace.

I hope sharing how EVN came to be has made our priorities clear. This is a platform created for RoboCuppers, and I wish it will encourage more to join this sport I love. Check it out!
Our Kickstarter

P.S. Kenneth has made his own post as well, feel free to check it out! I wrote my own post to share a bit more on my own experience, our motivations behind EVN and potential concerns. Thanks for reading.