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The Team

PiWars 2018 – So it begins again!

With entry form sent in, we waited with baited breath to see if we would be part of PiWars in 2018. Checking our emails after hearing on twitter that those lucky few have been picked, we where delighted to find out that we have been picked to take part!

Easy part taken care of, now the real work begins. Knowing what it took to win the challenges last year and seeing the new challenges for 2018 the design team sit down and come up with the plans.

So who are the Ipswich Makerspace team?

Currently the team is made up by last years team Phil, Jon, Keith and Steve. This year Vince will be taking care of our blogging!

  • Jon
  • Keith
  • Phil
  • Vincent


Jon started out with computers when a family friend gave him an old MS-DOS machine in the early nineties. From there a string of different types of hardware, including many home built machines, quickly showed that Jon was destined for a career in computing.

Jon LeachStarting with web site development using HTML and CSS Jon quickly progressed onto JavaScript, PHP and then Java. It was around this time that Jon began studying electronics at school and that sparked an interest in computer control and automation of real world objects.

In 2004 Jon started a course studying Computer science at the University of Southampton. This introduced him to a whole host of new technology included object oriented development, linux and c/c++.

In 2008 Jon moved to Ipswich and started a job at BT in Ipswich as a software engineer working at the one small part of BT that actually works on the phone network. Currently he works developing SIP soft switches for large corporate customers.

Despite his day to day focus on software Jon has continued his interest in hardware and electronics. Home automation is a particular focus of his spare time but also robotics, 3D printing and multi rotor aircraft.

Jon is the Ipswich Makerspace webmaster, has been involved in organising the first Ipswich Raspberry Jam and gives talks at several local tech groups.

Joining the tractor bot team for this year Jon is focusing on adding additional sensors to further tune to robots performance in the various challenges.


Keith Ellis was at school in the age of the Sinclair ZX81 and the ZX Spectrum. He remembers getting home from school in the afternoon and setting up his dads ZX81 on a table, plugging it into the kitchen black and white TV and typing in lines of code from magazines onto the absolutely awful “touch” keyboard. He was lucky enough that his dad had also purchased 16K RAM expansion pack which upgraded it from the standard massive 1 Kilo Byte of RAM. The only issue being if you pressed the “touch” keys too hard the ram pack moved, the computer crashed and code had to be retyped from the beginning.

From this point on he was always drawn to computers, moving from the ZX81, through various versions of the ZX Spectrum, Atari ST (he remembers a day trip to Selfridges in Oxford Street with his dad to get hands on before buying), then onto Intel and AMD 386 PC’s.

When it came to choosing his GCSE subjects Keith chose Electronics as one of them, he enjoyed this lots and remembers getting the teacher to order all sorts of components to play about with, over and above the official syllabus.

Keith Ellis
Keith is the old(er) one

However on leaving school Keith decided to take a BTec in Construction and later completed a BEng (Hons) in Civil Engineering and years later has now completed many successful projects including Portcullis House in London opposite Westminster Tower (Big Ben) and more recently London Gateway Port in Essex.

Over the years Keith had kept his interest in computers, although more as a user rather than a developer, he tried several times to self teach himself programming, buying several books on programming in C, although he made progress there was never any real reason or need to develop anything so it fell onto the back burner. Later the iPhone was announced, Keith applied for a developer account, downloaded the tools and bought more books on Objective-C, but once again, there was no real need, so it fell to the back burner again.

Then in April 2013 Keith ordered his first Raspberry Pi, at first he was not sure what to do with it, it was initially set it up as a media server using RaspBMC which was good, but he wanted to do more. After a bit of Googling, around November 2013, Keith decided he would build a Raspberry Pi robot. He wanted to build it from scratch and get back into electronics, so rather than buy a motor controller add on board, he bought a bread board, motor controller chip (L293D) and some wires and started messing about with LED’s, motors and Python. At last he had a project to get his teeth into and at last could progress his coding (and electronics) skills.

PiBot just keeps growing

The robot is still work in progress, it now boasts a L293 motor driver, Nokia 5110 display, IR proximity sensors, MCP23008 I2C IO expander, buttons and an I2C gyro and accelerometer and bluetooth interface for Wii controller. Progress was halted on this project towards the end of last year to work on TractorBot, the Ipswich Makerspace entry for PiWars 2014. He does still continue to learn and tinker with the original robot and the LCD menu system is now operational.

Keith is very much looking forward to this years PiWars, last year was such a blast and the community spirit surrounding the event was amazing.

Phil Willis

Phil profile photo
Jedi mind trick?

Phil started getting interested in computers at age 7, when his Dad took him to work at Essex County hospital where the Pathology department had a PDP 11 running BASIC. It ran several games including lunar lander and golf…….. all on paper via state of the art Teletype 33.

Later at secondary school, he started programming in BASIC and Forth, using a shared acoustic coupler terminal connected to a huge black and white TV and the county main frame. This experience was only for the chosen few and amounted to only a few minutes of computer time a week.

By now hooked, a series of computers came into his life, Acorn System 1, ZX80, ZX81, Spectrum and QL as well as those at Hatfield Poly where he got a degree in Electronics and Computing, learning PASCAL, C m16e, z80 and 6502 assembler.

After Poly came work at a local computer supplier writing printer drivers for a word processor running on the Commodore PET. Then on to building clone PC’s and writing some of the first PoS(Point of Sale)/PoI(Point of Information) systems using Amiga 2000’s.

In the early 90’s Phil started working for QTMS, a company specialising in monitoring printing presses and other ancillary equipment and somehow is still doing it after two buy-outs and going from a company of 6, to one of 3000.

Currently, Phil leads a team of 4 programmers spread throughout the UK and the USA.

Vincent Willcox

Vince first got interested in computers around age 6 when he was given a ZX spectrum and later a Commodore 64. Playing games and hacking them with code to give extra lives and lots of money got him interested in how they work.

During school he picked up knowledge of the BBC Micro computer and Acorn computers become a computer lab monitor. Helping with issues during lessons and during lunch breaks.

After school he started to study IT and electronics and continued his love of technology.

He now works for an IT software company helping application users understand how to use it and fixing it when things go wrong.

When not supporting software, he still likes to write it. He has several opensource applications on Git Hub that have proved popular.

He has also helped run 3 very successful Raspberry Jam’s in Ipswich and run several “Getting Started With Electronics” workshops. This has helped get kids started with electronics and Raspberry Pi’s with both Scratch and Python.



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