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Brilliant Bots

May 16, 2008 at 3:51 pm
By Margaret Taylor '10

Move over, Ultimate Frisbee. Carleton College has just won valor in a sport that is entirely different from the typical – robot building. The weekend of April 12 & 13, the Carleton Robotics Club took a field trip to Hartford, Connecticut to participate in the Trinity College Firefighting Home Robotics Contest. They took first place in the walking robot division.

Carleton Robotics Club members spend all year in preparing for the Trinity College Robotics Contest. Trinity College gives all the contestants a long list of rules that they must follow to the letter. All of the robots must navigate through a maze and find a “fire,” represented by a candle, and put it out — without any help from its human counterparts. Sans remote-control devices, the robot must rely completely on its internal computer.

Carleton Robotics Club entered robots in the Expert division and the Walker division. Expert division, as opposed to drab Senior division, has the added challenge that the robot builders don’t get to know what the maze looks like ahead of time. Not only does the robot have to put out the candle, but it must place a beacon next to a “baby” caught in the burning house. The baby is a light bulb painted black so it emits infrared light.

The budding mad scientists program their robots in OOPIC, a very basic computer language designed especially for controlling robots. Their programs have to be sturdy and complex because they are the only instructions the robot can rely on during the competition.

Adam Steege ’08 is president of the club and the builder of Kludgipede, the walker robot that took home first place. On the video clip of its winning run, the walking robot lumbers along, looking a lot like a cross between a Mars rover and a demented beetle. “It’s actually shockingly fast for a walking robot!” said Steege. Not only was Kludgipede the fastest walking robot to put out the candle, but it is the first walking robot to actually succeed in putting out the candle in the history of the contest. A significant part of the chassis is the numbered part of a clock. This gives the robot a rounded profile, which makes it less likely to get hung up on corners.

For their accomplishment, Carleton Robotics Club won a cash prize, which will go towards buying parts for next year’s contest.