Letter from the Devs - HSDC

We want your help!

This is our 8th year for the High School Design Challenge! Each year we try to grow the HSDC a little more, introducing new challenges, themes, story lines, and technologies, all to inspire and challenge our student participants.

Well, our students are not the only ones "challenged". It takes several hundred hours of volunteer time to create something new, exciting, and complete to meet the standards of past Design Challenges.

Looking back two years ago, we launched SailSim, a virtual sailboat challenge, late in the school year. The custom virtual environment we created was functional but required a level of refinement that later became one of the most successful Design Challenges yet with SailSim 2 in 2018. We considered the first SailSim a "development year" where students helped us learn how and where the Design Challenge could be improved.

This year, we are bringing back Professor Aardvark by launching, "Professor Aardvark's Asteroid Journey" (PAAJ). Already late in the school year, PAAJ will be a big leap for us as we introduce an exciting new virtual environment using the Unity Game Platform.

Unity provides us with a distributed, feature rich, scalable, powerful, and graphics intensive target platform to build upon now and in future years. Okay, so all those descriptive adjectives might not mean much to you, but to us it means capabilities we look forward to utilizing, but also a very large learning and development curve.

Thus, be patient with us while we strive to deploy the custom packages used to support your coding of this year's Design Challenge. There will be frequent updates, API changes, rule and scoring tweaks, etc., and maybe some instability at first. You can help us more than you might think because history has shown students find all the bugs and loopholes just by trying stuff we never thought of.

So, what will this year's Harris Student Design Challenge look like? And when will it launch? Good questions!

It will formally launch when we have a working Unity package to support your programming efforts, and when a minimal set of documents explaining the API, Challenge description, rules, and objectives are ready. Until then, we will make available preliminary documents and open registration on our (this) new website.

The competition itself should be interesting, with the primary goal of demonstrating that most parts of the Challenge are functional. Every team can help us "knock out the bugs" and literally be part of the development team.

But what about next year? Oh, we have plans! PAAJ 2 would be fully refined and extended just as SailSim 2 built upon SailSim. Plus, we plan to introduce the next part of Professor Aardvark's adventure. Do read on for this year's plot and hints on what lies ahead.

The Design Challenge has always been about learning software engineering concepts—not just programming. Real development of a large project takes time, talent, skill, determination, and collaboration by many engineers. And that's where the fun is.

--Your Harris Student Design Challenge Volunteer Development Team