More Robots At Trinity College

I was hoping to crank out a more detailed blog about the Trinity College Fire Fighting Robot Contest but I got sidetracked by the National Space Symposium. Expect videos from both on Engineering TV in the next week or so. In the meantime, here is a bit more about what I saw at the Trinity competition.

Trinity College was host to an international crowd with competitors with over 125 teams coming from as far away as Isreal, China and Indonesia. There were plenty of locals too including some from Trinity College. Overall I was very impressed by the range and sophistication of entries. There were robots from the tiny Parallax-based Sumobot to robots that had National Instrument's (NI) Labview and a Single Board RIO (SBRIO) (see LabView 2010 and Single Board RIO).

The sponsors for the RoboWaiter contest included the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities (CCDD) and Versa Products Company. “For the past three years, the RoboWaiter competition showed students and engineers the importance of designing assistive robots so that people with developmental disabilities can live more independently,” said Mary-Ann Langton, disability policy specialist at the CCDD.

There were two competition levels for the RoboWaiter contest. The basic version moved the plate from one table to another. The advanced version required an autonomous robot to respond to a high frequency tone by retrieving a plate from the designated location and deposit it on a table within the room. It had to first drive over an optical sensor that opened a door where there were two shelves.

This competition showed off some advanced development skills. There was one robot that used a pair of polarized plastic filters to adjust the amount of light for an IR sensor that would otherwise be overwhelmed by ambient light from the bright room light. Multiple cameras and ultrasonic sensors were common as well.

The fire fighting robot contest was very interesting in terms of the variety of solutions. There were different categories including a walking robot category (Fig. 1). These were often multi-leg, spider-like robots that tended to move more slowly than their wheeled counterparts but they could locate and extinguish the candle.

The rolling robots varied in speed and sophistication. There were some slow and methodical robots. There were also some speed demons (Fig. 2) that could traverse the entire maze in seconds inspecting each room for the fire (burning candle) without bumping into one wall. A variety of solutions were delivered for putting out the candle from tiny water cannons to fans.

The competition has become more challenging each year. The expert division has to contend with fires at different heights and locations. More obstacles are added to the mix as well. The final results are available at Trinity's website.

There is a definite trend towards more sensors as many of the more advanced robots had half a dozen ultrasonic sensors spread around the robot. Directional heat sensors were common. I did not see any GPUs in the mix yet but there were many advanced development boards in use. I already mentioned the NI SBIO and there were a couple robots with netbooks providing the system intelligence.

There were also a couple of robots on display that were not competing. One was playing chess. It ran the Robot Operating System (ROS) (see Cooperation Leads To Smarter Robots) and used a camera to check out the playing board. A robotic arm moved the pieces. 

Overall, the competition was a lot of fun to watch and I was very impressed by the high level of competition. Below is one of the robots competing in the RoboWaiter contest.

Finally got the video up on Engineering TV. Check it out below.

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