The “four foot ring of death” was placed at the front of the room where the robot competitors were about to do battle in the Computer Science Department’s 9th Annual Sumo++ Robot challenge, and Professor of Computer Science John Dooley explained the rules to the excited audience.
Five teams had constructed robots using the Lego Mindstorms system. The object of the competition was to construct a robot capable of finding a 100-gram can of sand and pushing it out of the four-foot diameter ring. As a secondary objective, pushing an opponent’s robot out of the ring would remove them from the round, although the primary objective of pushing the can out must still be fulfilled. The time limit for each match was three minutes.
“In the event of a deadly embrace, a judge will decide when to separate the robots and restart [the match],” Dooley said about the possibility that two robots would engage in combat and be unable to push each other out of the ring.
The five teams competed in a ladder, best out of three for each round. Each of the five robots was named — Pi, Jack IV, Wall-E, Jinx and Unknown. The first round was between Pi and Jack IV. Pi quickly won both of the matches in round one, bulldozing straight ahead and pushing the can out of the ring.
Round two, between Wall-E and Jinx, went badly for Walle. In the first match Wall-E drove himself out of the ring, bringing shouts of “What are you doing” from his programmer. The second match went about as badly for this bot, who lost a wheel, although it ultimately had to be redone due to the fact that Jinx got stuck on the can. Jinx handily won the rematch of match two against Wall-E.
In round three, Unknown and Pi traded wins, but Pi came through to win the round. From this point forward Pi began to dominate, beating Jinx back to back in round four. Round five started off with a draw between Jack IV and Wall-e, after which they traded wins until Jack IV eventually won the round, eliminating Wall-E entirely. Round six was also a blowout with Unknown quickly eliminating Jack IV.
Round seven, however, was a turning point in the competition, with the battles becoming more aggressive. In match one Jinx and Unknown engaged in a death-lock with neither gaining the upper hand for some time until Unknown disengaged before redoubling its attack and pushing Jinx out of the ring, winning match one. Matches two and three were both draws between Jinx and Unknown, but in the fourth match Unknown managed to put Jinx in a death-lock and pushed him out of the ring before taking his time searching for the can for the win, eliminating Jinx.
The final round was between Unknown and Pi. Although both robots were of a similar design and programming, essentially boxes on wheels that would charge at their targets, Pi had a definite advantage in weight. In the first match Pi pushed both Unknown and the can out at the same time. Match two ended anti-climatically with Pi driving straight at the can and pushing it out immediately.
The competition ended with an exhibition round of all of the robots (minus Jinx) and two cans, which Pi won in a similar style to the competition, but not without a fierce fight from Unknown.
Pi’s programmer, senior John Pierce-Ruhland, a Physics and Computer Science major, spoke about winning the competition.
“This was my third time competing. I came in second the first two times, and it felt good to move up. Unknown and I spent most of Wednesday night practicing against each other in the physics lab—I made some last minute weight additions and used a simple program.”
Unknown’s programmer, junior physics major Josh Wood, spoke about what he would do differently in the future, “I would add more weight, maybe use a third motor for pushing. It had plenty of power, but was not heavy enough to compete with Pi.”
Speaking about the process of programming his robot, Wood said, “I had two [programs] that I used. Against Jinx I used something similar to what they did, a search algorithm, but most of the time I had him just run until he found the border.”
The Sumo++ Robot Challenge was good for students both as a fun diversion at the end of winter term and from an educational perspective.
“I gave extra credit to my AI class for participating. Three robots were [from] people in the AI class,” Assistant Professor of Computer Science Jamie Spacco said.
From an educational perspective, Spacco felt that it pushed students in a good way.
“The robots that seemed to do best were [built by] physics [students]. Computer scientists tend to live in a virtual world without constraints; physicists test hardware and are used to working with physical constraints. I want to get physics students and computer science students together to build a robot to drive a car,” Spacco said.
Dooley talked about the overall outcome of the competition.
“It was great! A good group of competitors, a good crowd, good competition and matches. I think it helps to improve the department’s visibility and its something fun to do at the end of term.”