Last weekend, five members of Team Modular Robotics competed in SparkFun Electronics’ soldering competition in Longmont, Colorado, USA. The event was held on the patio of Oskar Blues brewpub and the weather for the event couldn’t have been better. Game on.
There were approximately 70 people participating in the adult competition (SparkFun also had a heat for the young soldering enthusiasts in the crowd). The competition was composed of three different rounds. In each round, the competitors had to build one of SparkFun’s soldering kits as quickly and accurately as possible. There were only two metrics on which the competition was judged: quality and time. Your kit had to work and you had to be fast.
The first round had three different heats of about 24 competitors each. The top times from these three heats advanced to the second round of sixteen. Each competitor was working on the Simon Says kit from SparkFun. There were some crazy fast times placing and soldering the 15 electronic components and the remaining mechanical assembly. The fastest time from Modular Robotics on this round belonged to Chris at just over seven minutes; this turned out to be the second-fastest time of all competitors. Nick was close behind Chris with another jaw-dropping time of 7:30.
We were happy and proud to have three of our team move on to the second round of the competition. The kit used for round two was the BigTime Watch kit. This round was significantly more challenging than the first round with most times being twice as long as those in the first round. The soldering level of this kit was similar but the mechanical assembly of the kit proved to be difficult for some of the competitors.
The third round consisted of the top eight individuals from the BigTime Watch build including both Chris and myself. SparkFun had announced the first two kits prior to the event so many individuals came ready with notes or at least some idea of what they would be building. The third round remained a secret until the top eight sat down at the final table. The kit for the final round was a Mr. Roboto Kit. When you purchase this kit from SparkFun, you receive a pre-populated circuit board with surface mount components. The competitors did not receive such a luxury. Each competitor had to hand solder fifteen surface mount components. This was when the provided flux pen and solder wick really came in handy (at least for me, with multiple bridges on my atmega microcontroller). The first two finishers were lightning quick each finishing in less than 26 minutes. It was really a race for third place at the end. I was the third person to finish the kit but the display on my board didn’t work. It took me a few minutes (seemed like 40 but was actually more like four) of troubleshooting before my full board came to life in about 30 minutes of total work time which was good enough for me to place third.
SparkFun put together an incredible event with many wonderful people. One of the best parts was chatting with other electronics and soldering enthusiasts between rounds. Some I knew, some I met for the first time but all of them came from interesting places and backgrounds. Although my account of the event may seem as though it was cutthroat right from the start, this was not the case. It was a very welcoming environment for participants from all backgrounds. The tone was friendly and the SparkFun employees were quick and eager to help everyone troubleshoot their boards. We think that the public is finally ready for soldering competitions. Olympics 2016, anyone?