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Why you should back Formula Pi, the Raspberry Pi-powered love child of Robot Wars and F1

Each week, we’ll be bringing you our pick of the best crowdfunding projects around, so you know which ones to consider backing, and which ones to definitely avoid.

This week, we love the sound of a racing series for autonomous, Raspberry Pi-powered robot cars, and pooh-pooh the idea of special sanitising wipes for your smartphone.

What is Formula Pi?

Formula Pi is a racing series that pits self-driving Raspberry Pi-powered cars against each other. The cars are about the same size as their remote-controlled forebears, but run off code that’s read by built-in Raspberry Pi computers.

You might wonder about the point of racing if all the cars drive themselves. Well, while you can’t steer them through the chicane or put your foot down on the home straight, you can alter the code they read, and hence improve your car’s performance.

You could end up hindering your car massively, too, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Related: Best Raspberry Pi projects

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Why is it interesting?

Because you don’t need to know a thing about coding in order to take part. The team at PiBorg – the people behind the race series – have done all the hard work, building the cars and writing the code. If you like, you can add to the code before it’s put into your car on an SD card, but you don’t have to. You could just chance it and see how you get on.

There will also be different classes, speeds and coding challenges, so you could choose which to enter based on your skill set. There’s even a Robot Wars-style battle series, starring a YetiBorg – the type of car that will be racing in each race – equipped with a MeArm, creating the ultimate fighting ArmyBorg that can lash out at rival racers.

Now that sounds like fun!

You don’t even have to be present at the race. As long as you get your code in before the deadline, PiBorg will take care of the rest. It’ll live stream each race, so you can watch it from wherever you are in the world, provided you’ve got an internet connection, of course.

Opinion: Is Robot Wars 2016 missing something important?

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What are the challenges?

PiBorg is quite open about the challenges its campaign faces. Parts such as motors and wheels could be in short supply and difficult to get hold of, resulting in shipping delays, or even a complete product redesign. To avoid either scenario, PiBorg is only using suppliers it’s worked with before, so hopefully that shouldn’t be an issue.

There’s also the issue of how to receive code from racers all over the world. PiBorg hopes to have an FTP site up and running, as well as traditional mail to send full SD cards containing the software. The code should be set up in such a way that tweaks only involve resending individual files, rather than the whole build.

The last challenge is having too many racers, but PiBorg has limited the number to five per race to make sure it’s not overwhelmed.

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Is there anything similar available?

There’s something called the International Autonomous Robot Racing Challenge (IARRC), which is held annually at the University of Waterloo, in Canada. But it’s pretty serious stuff – if you don’t have an Engineering degree, you’re not going to get very far.

Next year will also see the start of a new, F1-style robot motor racing series called Roborace. It’ll basically be a support act for Formula E, with the cars being driven by algorithms rather than human drivers. Again, you’ll need a hell of a lot of know-how – not to mention deep pockets – to take part.

There are robot versions of other sporting events, such as the Robot World Cup, but Formula Pi is the only one that anyone can enter, regardless of their level of technical knowledge.

This philosophy is in keeping with the Pi, which was designed to be an affordable, easy-to-use computer that spread the knowledge and passion of computing. It’s the way it should be.

Related: What is Formula E? F1 for electric cars explained

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Should I crowdfund this?

Yes, yes, and yes again. It’s lo-fi, educational and, most of all, fun. Even if you have no intention of taking part, you should wholeheartedly support such a project, and we’re happy to report that it’s way surpassed its funding goal.

Plud, PiBorg has some form when it comes to creating Pi-equipped spin-offs. Its previous work includes a cute little Pi-powered car called the DiddyBorg, and the ZeroBorg, a controller for Raspberry Pi Zero-powered robots. So it looks like the race series is in safe hands when it comes to delivering the project.

A pledge of £35 gets you entry to either the 2016 or 2017 series. (At present, the winter series is set to run from October 2016 to January 2017, and the summer series from April 2017 to July 2017, although these are subject to change). You’ll also receive a customisable YetiBorg lid, into which you pop your microSD card containing your code. You can decorate it so you can identify your robot during the race.

You can pledge more to enter both races, and £130 gets you your very own YetiBorg robot that you can build and practice with. You’ll need to supply your own Raspberry Pi Zero, microSD card, Raspberry Pi camera and camera cable.

Meanwhile, a pledge of £500 lets you name the first corner on the track. Cornery McCornerface, anyone? And a pledge of £1,000 makes you the official starter for the first race.

And one to avoid this week…


DaWipez. The photo says it all, really. Yes, people use their phones when on the toilet, but do we really need a pack of dedicated smartphone sanitising wipes so people can clean their phones afterwards? Can’t they just wash their hands? Haven’t they ever heard of wet wipes, which are basically the same thing? Are you trying to tell us screen wipes are actually new? Consider this idea thoroughly pooh-poohed – or should that be poo-pooed?

Watch: Raspberry Pi 3 vs Raspberry Pi 2

Related: The worst Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns EVER

Will you back Formula Pi? Seen any other cool campaigns lately? Let us know in the comments below.

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