Robot Wars and Other Robot Competitions

When we began our season last year, a number of our team members had the mistaken idea that the BBC show “Robot Wars” represented how FIRST LEGO League Robot Competitions worked.  The first (and persistent to some degree) question to some was how do we attack their robot across the table divide.  What kind of armature extensions or ballistics are allowed?

This preconception was particularly acute among team members who are on competitive sports teams including soccer, football and basketball who are used to direct head-to-head zero-sum competition.  Thankfully, these misconceptions are cleared up and Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition is ingrained in everyone now.

However, it is amazing the size and breath of Robot Competitions out there.  A FAQ on robot competitions from Nov 2013 lists 120 competitions worldwide.  The NASA website lists 33 of the most popular robotic competitions (including of course FIRST LEGO League).  Wikipedia lists a number of robot tournaments classified by outdoor/outdoor, autonomous/guided, surface or underwater, ground or aerial type robot competitions.

Here are just three of the curious wrinkles on robotic competitions:

(1) BEST Robotics (est 1993)

“BEST Robotics includes two elements: a robot competition, in which teams attempt to score as many points as possible in head-to-head competition, and the BEST award. The BEST award is more complex, encompassing such tasks as writing a high-quality technical notebook or engineering journal (which will be used to judge who will be a “wild card” in the semi-finals. That is, if their robot does not do well, they will still make it to the semi-finals, and have a chance to win). The BEST Award also involves marketing the team, promoting BEST, an interview, delivering an oral presentation to a panel of judges, and creating an exhibit that displays information about the team.

Another challenge teams involved in BEST face is limited materials—the primary construction materials used in BEST are simple and easily formed. These materials include PVC pipe, string, plywood, a limited quantity of sheet metal, and a bit of aluminum, as well as miscellaneous hardware, 2 large motors and 2 small motors, and the electronics necessary to run these motors and the 3 provided servos. At the beginning of competition, the robot is checked over to make sure that no illegal parts are used. Originally, old printers were also part of the BEST kit and printer parts could be used on the machine. The limited materials make students think much more creatively with what they are given.

(2) World Robot Olympiad (est 1999)

Teams must create a robot which can complete a specified mission determined by the organiser and usually based on the Open Category theme. Before the competition begins, the robot must be fully dismantled: for example, the batteries must be taken out of the brick or the tyres must be taken out from the wheels. It must be built in a specified time before each qualification round begins. Each robot is restricted to be 25 × 25 × 25 cm (9.8 × 9.8 × 9.8 in) before the round begins, and may consist of only LEGO certified parts, with specified motors and sensors depending on each competition. It must finish the mission autonomously, within a maximum time of two minutes. Teams are judged on their scores. If two teams’ scores are equal, they are judged by their time to the nearest millisecond. The top 16 performers then proceed to a playoff, whose winners progress to the quarter-final rounds, the semi-finals, and the finals which determine the winner.

(3) BOTBALL (est 1997)

The Botball® Educational Robotics Program engages middle and high school aged students in a team-oriented robotics competition, and serves as a perfect way to meet today’s new common core standards.  By exposing students to an inquiry-based, learn-by-doing activity that appeals to their hearts as well as their minds, Botball® addresses our nation’s need for a well-prepared, creative, yet disciplined workforce with leadership and teamwork experience.

In January, February, and March, the Botball® Educator Workshops provide team leaders and mentors with technology training and introduce the details of that year’s game. Then, after a build period of about 7 weeks, students bring their robots to their regional tournament to compete against other students in the current season’s game challenge.  Students use science, engineering, technology, math, and writing skills to design, build, program, and document robots in a hands-on project that reinforces their learning by: (1) Autonomous Robots, (2) Engineering, (3) Reusable Components, and (4) Training and Support.

(4) National Robotics Challenge (est 1986)

The National Robotics Challenge is designed to provide students of all ages and levels of study the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of manufacturing processes, controls, robotics and other technologies through competitive engineering contests. Students are judged on their application of technology principles, engineering concepts and their ability to solve real-world problems through a team approach. !
The National Robotics Challenge is designed to complement classroom instruction and provide
students the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge in challenging and fun situations. Each contest is specifically designed to test the students’ skills and knowledge in a particular area of manufacturing, technology, robotics and automation. The event is open to any student in elementary, middle school, high school, or post-secondary school anywhere in the world.

SUMO – Contest Description
The Sumo Robot Contest requires a student team to build a self-propelled, remote controlled
or sensing robot, designed to force another Sumo Robot outside a ring. The competition ring
will be a square painted flat black, measuring 15’ 2” across. This inside square is surrounded
by a two-inch (2”) wide, painted or taped, flat white ring. Another white one-inch (1”) wide, line
will surround the inner ring with 2 inches (2”) between them. When any part of the Sumo
crosses completely over the 1” white outer ring it will lose the heat.

ROBOT MAZE – Contest Description
In the Robot Maze Contest, students use a tactile or non-tactile robot to navigate a right/left turn maze.

RESCUE ROBOT – Contest Description
In the Rescue Robot contest, the participants build a remote controlled vehicle able to operate within a 18-foot long and 10-foot wide playing field. The vehicle is to travel the field and pick up four colored ping-pong balls from four holding devices (pick pylons) locations and place them into a receiving jig (drop pylons).  The event is intended to simulate the environment that a robot might be required to navigate in the event of a building collapse.

ROBO HOCKEY – Contest Description
The Robo Hockey contest requires a student team to build two remote controlled robots that will compete in a simulated hockey event against two robotic opponents. The team that scores the most goals in a three minute match wins. The event is held in a double elimination format tournament.

This is an on-site challenge, a team will have no prior knowledge of the
details of what will be asked as a solution to the problem presented.
Students will receive a prompt and then be given a maximum of three
hours to complete a solution. Partial credit will be given for partial
solutions. This challenge is designed to simulate the communication and
interactivity between computers, sensors and microcontrollers. Scientists,
engineers and programmers encounter these every day, their use is
widespread from industry to medicine to space exploration.

For the Autonomous Vehicle Challenge each team will design and build a
vehicle to navigate an obstacle course. A successful run is one where the
vehicle navigates around the 4 waypoints (yellow stanchions) and crosses the
finish line in under 5 minutes. Additionally, bonus points are given for
completing special tasks during a run. Once earned, bonus points cannot be
taken away. Teams can score bonus points even if they do not complete a
successful run.

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