Pi Wars – annual public robot Olympics

Liz: This week’s all about community. Mike Horne and Tim Richardson are old, old friends of the Raspberry Pi project. They’ve been running the Cambridge Raspberry Jam for ages – it’s one of the Jams we use as an exemplar and a showcase for anybody wanting to start their own. They’re so good at organising this stuff that we asked them to help us set up, run and host the Raspberry Pi third birthday party earlier this year. It was an enormous success – 1300 of you came from all over the world, and we had an amazing weekend. (And about a ton of pizza.)

Mike and Tim are REALLY GOOD at this stuff. So it’s with enormous looking-forwardness that I asked them to prepare a guest post for us on their next non-standard Pi event (a repeat of what was probably the best Pi event I attended last year – and I go to a lot of them): a second annual Pi Wars, to be held in Cambridge this December. (We wrote about it here last year.) Over to Mike and Tim.

Preparation for this year’s challenge-based robotics competition, Pi Wars, is now underway! We’d like to tell you about the competition, how to get involved – and also launch a pre-event competition!


Following the success of last year’s event, we have plans for a bigger and better competition this year. The 2015 competition will be held on Saturday 5th December at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory (where the Big Birthday Weekend was), off Madingley Road in Cambridge, UK.

For those of you who don’t know, Pi Wars is an event at which Raspberry Pi-powered robots compete against each other in various challenges to win prizes and to take the title of Best Robot. Last year, we had 20 teams competing, and around 200 spectators. This year, we have raised the maximum number of competing teams to around 30, and we hope to welcome over 300 spectators to see them battle it out in 2015’s larger space.


Teams come from all walks of life, including schools, Code Clubs, hack spaces, families and individuals – we even had a few robots last year that had been made in lunch-hours at offices by teams of colleagues. So why not you?

Pi Wars, unlike Robot Wars, does not go in for destructive combat: we want your robots to make it to the end of the day relatively unscathed! So, our challenges are based on skills tests. The main challenges this year are:

Other elements of the competition are will be:

There are also other ‘side competitions’, which will include the robots in the Show and Tell area (of which more in a moment). You can find out more about these side competitions and see details of all the challenges by visiting the List of Challenges page on our website.

Show and Tell

As mentioned above, there will also be a Show and Tell area featuring robot exhibits. This is a great way to get involved if you have a robotics project but don’t have time to make it competition-ready; or if your robot is something “a bit different”. Anything goes in Show and Tell as long as it is controlled by a Raspberry Pi and it moves!

Applying to enter

This year, there is an application process to follow for both the main competition and the Show and Tell area. Depending on the number of robots we have entering, it may be necessary to select from them the robots that will take part. We have a selection process – follow the link to learn more. If you would like to apply and get involved in Pi Wars, head over to the Pi Wars website and fill in:


As you can imagine, putting on an event this size requires sponsorship of various forms. We are looking for companies to sponsor the event by donating prizes (add-on boards, t-shirts, magazine subscriptions and kits all made an appearance last year) for the various challenges and, if that’s not appropriate, to donate financially so that we can make the courses and print the full-colour programme that every competitor and spectator receives. So far, we have received generous offers from Dexter Industries, Ryanteck, Dawn Robotics, 4tronix, RasPiO, PiBorg, The Pi Hut, MyPiFi and Energenie. So, if your company would like to be involved, please take a look at our sponsors page for what we can do for you in return.

Pre-event competition – Design the programme cover!

New for this year is our pre-event competition. This competition is open to anyone 16 years old or younger and involves creating some artwork. Our programme last year (pictured) featured our logo and a photograph of a robot (we aren’t graphic designers). This year, we want a different design, and that’s where you come in.

We would like you to design a new front cover. It will still have our banner logo at the top, and the date will be on there somewhere, but we need a new image for the middle of the page. So, get your thinking caps on and send us your design! You can find details of how to enter here. Entries must be received by noon on 1st October. The winner will be picked by members of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and will be notified around the 8th October. This should give us plenty of time to get the design integrated into the programme and get it printed!

Any questions? We are open to any questions you might have. Either visit our website and contact us, or leave a comment on this blog post and we’ll get back to you. We hope to see you at Pi Wars 2015 on 5th December!

Michael Horne & Tim Richardson [email protected]/[email protected]


Michael Horne avatar

Feel free to ask any questions about Pi Wars here – we’re all ears! :-)

Johannes avatar

It is nice to engage young folks with such contests, but why do you name it “Pi wars”. Any kind of “war” is something I would not like to have my kids involved (ok, I don’t have kids yet) in any kind of it. Not even a “child friendly one” like yours. Alone the creation of an possitive association with the word alone could be troublesome. When “Pi wars” are ok, are other wars ok too?
Maeh :(

PS: Ok, well I’m German and eventually I’m a little sensitive after spending quite some time in history lessons learning how bad militarisation of language was and can be.

Tim Richardson avatar


Thanks for your feedback. I do understand your sentiments.

All challenges at Pi Wars are non-destructive. The name came from the TV Program ‘Robot Wars’, which we obviously cannot use.


alexeames avatar

“Don’t mention the War!” ;p

It’s an excellent name in English and captures the spirit of the Robot Wars competition that it is.

Billy Ebullient avatar

I agree! There’s substantial evidence (not scientifically proven but it is actual fact) that things with aggressive names cause wrongness and baddies. In 1948 two children playing the appallingly named “Hangman” (where you try to hang your “friend”!) actually ate their own little stick legs when their pencil broke! In a famous 1983 experiment – using neutral Swiss children as a control – when playing “Cowboys and Indians” kids were statistically proven to favour Cowboys at a ratio of 12.3:1. Forty eight percent of the so-called-cowboys then went on to waterboard frogs. Even though frogs can’t even talk!

In another study, five kids who played “Playground Wars” for more than 84 hours without a break actually replaced their own eyes with marbles, how will they ever get jobs? And they say people can’t take things in context and tell fantasy from reality!

Also, in the “children’s” movie “WarGames” it’s no surprise the computer goes mad and tries to kill everyone with atoms before it learned futility from noughts-and-crosses. Because WAR’S rubbish and should be banned so do not call your robots killer’s in a WAR, it will end in tears. And botrage.

Eric Olson avatar

Though not German, I agree with the expressed concerns regarding casual use of military language. Not only are wars serious, but gender biases concerning who actively participates in a war are more pronounced than for almost any other event. As per the subtitle of this blog entry, I would suggest that the name “Pi Olympics” would be more appropriate and universally inspiring.

Liz Upton avatar

I think that perhaps people who aren’t from the UK (where this is held) are missing the cultural context.

ukscone avatar

>I think that perhaps people who aren’t from the UK (where this is held) are missing the cultural context.

and the piwar :(

Johannes avatar

I’m kind of happy and sorry at the same time for starting such an discussion.

I’m aware of “robot wars” and I’m also aware of contries which are part of the NATO which are using robots to prepare and execute acts of violance with drones. So in my eyes “robot wars” a little bit too real nowadays.
Plus the english language shows signs of militarisation especially in the US, but also in UK and the best way to etablish the acceptance of militarism (or any other subject) is a constant change of everyday speech.
The english language has some zivil synonyms for competition, if one of you ever starts a new contest you could try one of them :=).

@Tim Richardson
Which dictionary do you use? Most english and german sources I checked are adding “violence, physical power, armed” to the competition of your definition of war (“Krieg” in German).

Liz Upton avatar

I’ve just looked it up in the OED: Tim appears to be using that. He’s not being disingenuous, and it’s not very nice to make out that he is.

I think I may have said this earlier (looks – no, I didn’t, so I guess it came up in a conversation about this thread), but idiom is often hard to grasp when you’re not a first-language speaker. (And frankly, you might want to think about whether you yourself are being aggressive and hurting the feelings of people who are working hard to make a really terrific event happen; my two cents, but I think that your two posts have been far more hurtful and un-civil than anything else that’s going on here. Apart from maybe Billy.)

This is way off-topic; can we get back to robots, please?

Johannes avatar

@Liz Upton

Sorry, 4rd post.
I never wanted to make out, that anyone is disingenuous! I’m working in an academic environment and it is very common to ask for reference if anything is not clear or not corresponding to someone’s knowledge and/or found references in my field. In this case I was not able to find any reference, which does not mention the act of violence when defining the word “war”. So my question was honest interest which reference derivatives in this matter.
Ok you British are often asking more polite full than common Germans like I do :)

San Addison avatar


I get that you do not like the name. I get that you are concerned about deep concepts such as nominative determinism, internalization of the language of aggression and semantics-driven cultural desensitization to militarism. I even get that you are concerned to such an extent that you use the comments section of a blog about robots as a soapbox.

Your stance is laudable but misguided. The problem with pushing your point of view here is that a) the name “Pi Wars” is good and will not be changed and b) no one cares. (Do not take b) to heart – it’s about your views in this specific context ie a computer forum.) TBH, it’s pretty tedious comng here to read about how to get involved in a robot competition only to be lectured via a German-centric view on the militarization of language.

There are much better and more productive places on the web to discuss this. Please stay on topic or go elsewhere and let the rest of us chose to engage (or not) in something with a specific word in its title.

Johannes avatar

Hi Liz Upton and San Addison,

I did not want to hurt anybody, especially anybody who does something great like educating kids like you do. So please don’t get me wrong.
And I don’t want you to change the name of an event which is already established, that would harm the whole idea. I’m pleased with the fact, that I reached the right people (you). So this blog was the right spot for my initial question. Even if I found my self described as uncivilised* :).

If I really hurt someone, I want to apologise for that.

And for all other, people how want something like this competition to take place in their city. Just start it yourself with friends. If you need help, most Fablabs and the Maker and haker scene is very likely to help! :)

*In fact our cultural imprint differs, but diversity is not bad at all

Michael Horne avatar

Unfortunately, we would be unlikely to get away with using the word “Olympics” due to trademarks etc. It really *was* a cultural reference we were going for. Robot Wars isn’t just a UK thing, I believe. Anyway! We had plenty of kids involved last year (including girls) who didn’t object.

ukscone avatar

How about Robot Fisticuffs

Tim Richardson avatar

People have been sued before for using the name ‘Olympics’ without a license – which are never granted.

We’re sticking with ‘Pi Wars’ because, well, we like it, and we’re using the dictionary definition of ‘a state of competition between different people or groups.’. Perfect description.

Sorry to anyone who takes it in the wrong context :-( English is not perfect – we have many words that have many, many meanings which often depend on the context. Take ‘love’ for example. We have one word. The ancient Greeks had six!

wallyware avatar

“looking-forwardness” = anticipation?

Liz Upton avatar

Lord, you’re no fun.

wallyware avatar

I can be fun (ask Ben) but I’ve been writing documents for so long I can’t help but automatically access the thesaurus in my head when I read awkward phrasings.

Liz Upton avatar

Your awkward is my INFUSED WITH JOY.

Felipe avatar

The competition, the name, the organization, is excellent. I wish I could find something like this in my country.

Sander avatar

Quite. I can’t believe how actively some people seem to look for offense. I wish I could go to one of these events, they sound amazing.

Billy Ebullient avatar

It’s a terrible name. Here are some alternatives you should all consider. I request that you take a vote and come up with an alternative by Monday:

Android Shennanigans
Pi Collateral Damage
Pi War! Huh! What is it good for?
Pi Surrender
Automata Slaughter
Drone Frenzy
Ding ding! Popty ping!
Pi Noon
Pi ‘n’ Mighty
Evil Robot Killer Deathmatch Zone

ukscone avatar

how about we just call it Fred? Noone can object to that. :)

Liz Upton avatar

If ever I have an opening in marketing come up, Billy, you’re in.

Michael Horne avatar

Is it wrong that I quite like Pi Noon? :-D

Liz Upton avatar

Eben did too, as it happens – I read Billy’s whole list out to him last night, and that one actually made him spit some wine.

Michael Horne avatar

Our Robot vs Robot Duel is now known as Pi Noon :p

Liz Upton avatar

Hip hip hooray!

Isaac Carter avatar

Would it be possible for me to set up a Pi Wars in the United States?

Michael Horne avatar

Yep, that’s absolutely fine, Isaac. If you want some help getting going, send me an email – [email protected]
We can give you details of courses, artwork, ideas, that kind of thing.

Michael Horne avatar

We’ve now published a ‘getting started’ guide for those who want to get into robotics but don’t know where to start! http://piwars.org/getting-started-with-robotics/

Camillo avatar

pi new horizons

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