HARTFORD, CT, April 12, 2011 – Besting formidable teams and robotics experts from around the world, Sorin Vatasoiu and Nico Losada, two 15-year-olds from Marlborough, MA, captured the award for Best Ultimate Robot Performance in Sunday’s 18th Annual Fire Fighting Home Robot Contest at Trinity College.
The prize for best all-around performance was announced at the end of the second day of the weekend robotics extravaganza in which teams from Indonesia and China were dominant, with Portugal and Israel also doing well.
“We’re definitely surprised,” said Vatasoiu. “We didn’t think we’d get that far.” The two teenagers amassed the most points by having the best Tiny Robot, winning the Versa Valves Challenge (which offered a $500 prize to the robot achieving the highest score while using a valve made by Versa Products Company, Inc. of New Jersey, the major sponsor of the two-day event) and finishing third in the high school division.
Throughout the weekend, the robots dazzled. The autonomous computer-controlled thingamajigs came in every shape, size and color imaginable, and were outfitted with wires, hoses, propellers, batteries, Legos, wheels, squirt bottles, metal plates, balloons, bolts and more. Some were constructed in a matter of days; others over the course of a year.
This year’s competition was one in which first-time entrants shined, and a year in which the fledgling RoboWaiter contest, based on the concept of using robots to assist people with special needs, drew a record number of contestants. RoboWaiter, co-sponsored by the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities (CCDD) and Versa Products, kicked off the competition on Saturday with entry-level and advanced categories.
In both cases, the objective was to have a robot snag a plate of food (Cheerios in a blue plastic bowl) and deliver it, without spilling the food, to a doll in a miniature wheelchair sitting at a small table. In the advanced division, there was the added complication of the robot having to get the food out of a makeshift refrigerator.
Spectators hooted and hollered as the robots sputtered and stalled, with several managing to grab the dish but then flipping the Cheerios onto the floor or bumping into the table. Each team was entitled to three runs. Contestants from Bandung, Indonesia ultimately prevailed, finishing first and second in the entry-level division and winning the advanced division. A team from Harmatz Ort Givat Ram in Jerusalem, Israel took third in the entry-level category.
Yusrila Kerlooza, who recently earned his Ph.D. in computer engineering, brought three students with him from the University of Komputer (Unikom) in Bandung. Kerlooza said he was extremely pleased with the results given that historically there has been little incentive for Indonesians to get involved with robotics. However, Kerlooza said he started a competition seven years ago modeled on Trinity’s event.
The top finishers from Connecticut in the RoboWaiter contest were three youngsters from Harwinton, CT: Jared Dubar, 13; Timothy Endersby, 14; and Phillip Weingart, 12. For their efforts, they earned a $500 prize.
Sunday’s competition, in which an autonomous computer-controlled robot had to respond to a fire alarm, find a lit candle by navigating a maze resembling a house and then extinguish it in the shortest possible time, featured nearly 100 teams.
Fourteen students from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, drove 11 hours each way so that their four robots could take a crack at putting out the blaze. “I’ve had a blast doing this,” said team captain Seth Cook. One of their robots, Neptune v2 came in third in the senior division.
Two young women, sporting yellow T-shirts that said, “This is what a computer scientist looks like,” met serendipitously. Although they attend school in different parts of the country, their professors roomed together years ago at Kenyon College in Ohio. Each persuaded his student to participate. So the two, Molly Mattis from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania and Kathryn Hardey from Centenary College in Shreveport, LA, collaborated by email and Skype for nearly a year. They met for the first time on the Friday before the competition. Although their robot, Centegheny, did not win, Mattis and Hardey were thrilled that they made it through to the third run – and that they had finally met.
Then there was Chris Odom, a research scientist-turned-teacher, from the George School in Pennsylvania who decided a few days before the competition to build his robot. His contraption managed to douse the flame, although he didn’t place in the top three in his division. Nonetheless, Odom said he enjoyed the “quirky” nature of the competition and also watching his students participate.
The top two finishers in the junior division were from Associacao Desenvolver o Talento, Portugal and Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield, MA, respectively. In the high school division, the team from Urumqi Senior High School in Shanghai, China came in first; the team from GuangXi LiuZhou High School, also in Shanghai, came in second; and the Massachusetts teens, Vatasoiu and Losada, took third.
In the senior division, teams from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia placed first and second, and one of the teams from Shepherd University finished third. A team from the Institute Teknologi in Bandung won the walking division.
Overall, officials from Trinity and the CCDD declared the weekend competition a great success. Said CCDD Vice Chairman Frank Reed: “To have so many young people studying assistive robotics brings hope to the world.”
David Ahlgren, director of the two-day contest and Karl W. Hallden Professor of Engineering at Trinity, agreed. Of the RoboWaiter contest, he said, “It’s taken a few years to get it going. But the word has spread and each year it gets better and better.”