Revenge of the Lunchbots, in the beginning…

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 …Simon describes the rationale behind the Red River initiative “The Lunchbots”

Those of you who have followed us at Red River know of the work we do with schools, educational institutions and regional initiatives to help shape the landscape for the next generation of Digital Engineers. Our latest initiative is born out of meetings between us and Millais regarding the absence of practical, hand-on coding in the current Computing syllabus.

Practical experience is not just the fun part of the software engineering, it helps flex the programming muscles and builds the patterns that all budding coders need. We are all disappointed that it has disappeared from the GCSE syllabus but with activities such as this we are helping to redress the balance.

Our Lunchbot challenge devised by Simon, James and Robyn of Red River and Matthew from Millais was our intervention to help engage the students at Millais, give them practical coding skills and help them see the opportunities available in a career in Software Engineering.

(In case you are wondering about the name, when we built the original autonomous robot we were looking for a case to build it in and all we had to hand was an empty lunchbox.)

This is our 2ndyear of running the workshops and we are collaborating with 6 schools who are keen to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

The Lunchbot Challenge 2019

Project Objectives

  • Components for The Lunchbot ChallengeTo build an autonomous robot using your team’s own design that will navigate around the course and perform with the set of components provided (which includes portable battery packs, chassis, Raspberry Pi 3, cables, motor board, ultrasound sensor and resistors).
  • Develop coding skills using the Raspberry Pi 3 and the programming language Python.
  • Create programs and algorithms that react to objects, navigate autonomously and perform all the tasks.
  • To do all of this faster and more successfully than all the other teams.


If you’re new to the programming world… Python is an object-oriented, high-level programming language with integrated dynamic semantics primarily for web and app development. (As described by Python for Beginners!) Python is seen as one of the most accessible programming languages available and is now part of the Computer Science qualification taught in schools.

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi 3 is a tiny credit card size computer that allows you to see how a computer works at a basic level. The software is open-source therefore students have the opportunity to look at the underlying code. In order to use it you do need to plug in the usual keyboard, monitor and mouse!

Build time

In February and March Red River developers are visiting schools to show students how to build and program our home-made “Lunchbot”. Students learn how to wire up the motor board, add the power bank, the Raspberry Pi and other peripherals before starting the programming element. Finally, they add the breadboard and wiring for the line sensor.

Program, Test & Refine

During the next few months on the run up to May, teams will construct their robots and teach them how to navigate autonomously around a course. This includes avoiding objects on their way using the ultrasound sensor, and how to follow a thick line as it moves whether that be in a straight line or around bends.

Fashion alert!

Students have free reign to design and build their robot however they wish, they can use any materials or components they can get their hands on. With many schools have laser cutters and other tools, we’re looking forward to having an eclectic ensemble of robots at the competition in May!

The Red River team are on hand for support via a forum they created. Each team has a private area they can use to ask questions and there is a public area where they can confer with other teams or show off their designs.

And the winner is!

In May all the participants will come together for the final, which includes prizes for:

  • Fastest in a straight line
  • Best Line Follow
  • Best Obstacle Avoider
  • Best in Show (most Aesthetically pleasing)
  • Best Chassis Engineering
  • Independence
  • Overall Winner

If your school or business would like to get involved please get in touch [email protected]


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