Sharon and I went to the Atlanta Hobby Robot Club Robot Rally yesterday, at the Pinckneyville Community Center in Norcross. It was a series of different contests that robots are entered into, from line following, where the robot has to navigate a course by following a line, to robo-sumo and many others. We saw the line following contests, both basic and advanced, and the beginning of the Cube Quest before leaving.
The line following contest is exactly like a course I took when I was back at RPI, studying mechanical engineering. The robot is a compilation of motors, sensors, and a microcontroller which is designed to follow a line on the ground. As things go, this is relatively simple to get working, but is not at all simple to get working efficiently and quickly. This contest is for time, and the faster your device goes, the less time it has to react if it gets off course. Too far off course and suddenly it can’t find the line at all and it’s disqualified.
Amusingly, the Emcee of the event had given a talk the month before on the algorithm used by naval vessels to make turns smoothly and efficiently, and his adaptation of it to the line following robot. He was complaining that now everyone’s robots were beating his using his using his own algorithm!
Cube Quest was a contest between two robots to see who could get the most points in a set period of time. The object was to accumulate red cubes in your goal, worth 1 point each, and to not accumulate blue ones, worth -1 points. You could, of course, push blue cubes into your opponents goal, or steal their red cubes. It’s all up to your own strategy. The contests we saw were decided by scores of 1 to zero and similar.
Just before we left, we saw a quick demonstration for kids on how a line following robot was put together. The Emcee taped four kids together—2 sensors, 1 drive train, 1 controller— and had them follow a line, explanining how this was exactly how the line following robots did it.
It was a lot of fun to go see this. I wish we’d been able to stay for the robo-sumo, but lunch was calling.