Israeli High School Team Captures Top Prize in Fire Fighting Competition

Two-Day Competition has Strong Multi-National Presence

HARTFORD, CT, April 8, 2013 – Two students from Misgav High School in northern Israel, Yuval Shalev and Amit Pilowsky, captured the grand prize, or the BURP (Best Unified Robotics Performance) Award as it’s called, at Sunday’s Fire Fighting Home Robot Competition, the 20th that Trinity has held. The BURP Award is the highest honor that a robotics team can receive because it is based 50 percent on the team’s robot performance, 25 percent on its Olympiad Exam score and 25 percent on its poster score. The name of the winning robot was Antonio.


David Ahlgren (background left)Karl W. Hallden Professor of Engineering​ and competition coordinater, watches as the winning team from Misgav High School in northern Israel, Yuval Shalev and Amit Pilowsky, hoists its trophy.

But unlike last year, when teams from China and Indonesia swept most of the major prizes, teams from several countries, including the United States, fared very well. A group of students from Trinity, whose robot had the unusual name of 57UD-807, finished third in RoboWaiter’s standard level competition.

Introduced five years ago, RoboWaiter requires an autonomous robot to snatch a dish from a miniature refrigerator and carry it to a small figure seated at a table in a room without spilling the food. The RoboWaiter event, whose focus is on assistive robotics, held center stage on Saturday, with a record 38 teams participating, including eight from Trinity. The goal of assistive robotics is to help people with special needs improve the quality of their lives.

Finishing first in the standard level contest was a team from Guangdong Foshan Shimen Middle School in Foshan, China, followed by a team from Ohel-Shem High School in Ramat Gan, Israel. In the advanced level of RoboWaiter, the first-place team was from Indonesian Computer University and the second-place team was UNIKOM, both from Bandung, Indonesia.

The signature event of the weekend, however, was the fire fighting competition, which drew roughly 90 teams from seven countries and at least 10 states. A big reason for Indonesia’s success every year is that competitions are held annually in that Asian country. The Indonesian government then subsidizes the winning teams’ trips to Hartford. Similarly, a heavy emphasis is put on robotics in China and Israel, where students get involved at a young age.

During the fire fighting competition, an autonomous computer-controlled robot must respond to a fire alarm, discover the blaze and extinguish it in the shortest possible time. To accomplish that, the robot must navigate its way through a maze that resembles a house, locate a burning candle, put it out by either squirting water at it or blowing it out, and optionally return to the starting point. As always, the robots were both a fascinating and colorful mass of wires, sensors, Legos, balloons, squirters, metal rods, wheels, plastic feet, fans and just about every other type of material that the contestants could mesh or weld together.

As a testament to the popularity of the competition, many teams were making return visits. Rosalie Xu represented The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison, NJ, where she is now a student. She had come to Trinity twice before from her homeland of China. “This competition means a lot to me,” said Xu, who was under no illusions that she would win because unlike previous years, she lacked a support network and coach this year. “I just enjoy making progress. I learn a lot from it,” she said.

For Matthew Tork and Jeff Carter of Shepherd University in West Virginia, this marked the third time they had made the trip to participate in the fire fighting competition. 

“The first year we didn’t know what to expect,” said Tork. “Basically, it’s the challenge and the fun.” The two were rewarded with a third-place finish in the senior division.

Snaring first and second place in the junior division were teams from the Talcott Mountain Science Center in Avon, CT, and capturing third place was a team from Frontier Middle School in South Deerfield, MA.

In the high school division, the top team came from the Shiwan campus of Guangdoing Goshan Shimen Middle School in Shiwan, China, followed by Mercer Area High School in Mercer, PA, and the Misgav High School team that won the BURP award.

The senior division had a robot named Flameout built and operated by Ronald Sheridan take first place, with a team from the University of Evansville in Evansville, IN taking second and the Tork-Carter team from Shepherd University, one of four entered by the school, taking third.

In the walking division, a team from Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia came in first, followed by Dmitiry Gayduk and Chris DiMauro with a robot named Neohexane. Gayduk and DiMauro are graduates of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. DiMauro called it “gratifying” that his robot did well this year since last year his team’s robot navigated the maze and walked right up to the candle but failed to extinguish the flame.

The principal sponsor of the two-day event was Versa Products Company, Inc. of New Jersey, whose CEO is Jan Larsson, a 1977 Trinity alumna. The Versa Valve Challenge offered a $500 prize in each contest division for the best robot that used a Versa valve to extinguish the candle. Versa Products has manufactured pneumatic, hydraulic, manual and solenoid valves since 1949.

The other major sponsor was Trinity College. Patron sponsors included the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities; Robotis; the Connection section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; SolidWorks; Servo Magazine; Lockheed Martin; Robotbox; Circuit Cellar; mindsenors.com; Lockheed Martin; and the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau. 

A complete list of winners will be posted later this month at: www.trincoll.edu/events/robot.