Annual Robot Battle in North Little Rock Gets Nimbler
Nick Jones spent last year’s robot battle lying on his back beneath 64 square feet of carpet, puppeteering a koala, a baseball bat and a cat toy.
Only these weren’t a typical koala, baseball bat and cat toy.
These items had sharp accessories, like spikes, to be even more obstructive to the robots roving above him, Jones said.
Jones is a lead educator at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock. It’s where the annual bot battle takes place.
On Saturday, Jones helped administer the fourth annual competition. This year, the contest was less about spikes, more about strategy.
Two weeks ago, eight teams were each given a motor, wheels, a robot body and a robot “brain,” called an Arduino microcontroller.
The body of each robot was modeled after the Mars rovers, Jones said.
Teams were told to modify them however they wanted, though no flinging, slinging or hurling of weapons was allowed.
Last year’s contest was a lot of “bot-on-bot combat,” Jones said. Squat, sturdy machines crashed together like sumo wrestlers, which “started to get stale,” he said.
This year, robots were nimbler. Competitors were told they’d be scavenging for magnetized coins and capturing a flag to earn the most points.
For the arena, the innovation hub fashioned interchangeable foam hexagons that varied in height.
Coins were scattered around the board. A skull and crossbones flag, worth 10 points, sat squarely in the middle.
Before competing, teams gathered in the “garage” of the innovation hub to make last-minute fixes.
Joe Benton said his team, The Inexperienced Roboticists, embraced a thrash-and-pillage strategy.
They named their robot — which resembles a covered wagon — The Oregon Trailblazer.
Two metal prongs stuck out of the trailblazer’s front. Those prongs could be jammed into another robot’s wires and hardware.
“We thought that’d be more fun,” Benton said. Plus, it looks “a little scarier,” he added.
Others used art to intimidate opponents.
Scot Sepe, a member of team R56, had painted eyes, a red mouth and white fangs onto the front of his team’s robot.
Sepe, who used to make prosthetics at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, insisted he was not the team’s mastermind.
“I’m just a schmuck in the trenches,” he said.
Twenty minutes before competition time, Divided by Zero, a team of preteens, was tending to a would-be catastrophe.
The children all participate in an after-school program offered by the innovation hub.
Earlier, a part of their robot “started spinning out of control” and caught fire, said Britton Scritchfield, the adult team leader.
“It went down, literally, in flames,” said Taylor, age 11.
Still, they were OK by competition time and got a “bye” in the first round.
“We’re making it up as we go,” Scritchfield said.
The tournament was single elimination. Last year’s champion, Levy the Falcon Dog, made it to the final four but lost before the championship.
A novice team, Peasant Uprising, bested The Inexperienced Roboticists in a close match for the first-place title.
Champion Naveed Siddiqui said his team decided to make their robot into a large magnet. That way, coins would be swept up into its clutches.
They included a battering ram, for good measure. And they gave their robot a name: Rabble Rabble Rabble.
But what might have tipped the scales was an accessory.
One of the “peasants” brought a real pitchfork. It was hoisted aloft in victory as a scrum of children cheered.
Metro on 02/18/2018
Print Headline: Annual robot battle gets nimbler; Teams in NLR ditch open combat, switch to race for coins