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Robots Douse Fires, Serve Food in College Competition

Teams from around the world gather at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., to enter robots in performance competitions.

by / April 2, 2012
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Robots at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., were extinguishing fires and serving food last weekend in a competition to earn their creators bragging rights and possible job opportunities.

Roughly 130 teams from around the world — including China, Israel and the U.S. — attended the college’s 19th annual robot competition for a chance to win prizes and show off their self-built or out-of-a-box autonomous robots.

Trinity College Professor David Ahlgren, the competition’s director, said the contest serves as a learning opportunity for participants of all ages and skill levels.

“The robots are really devices to learn with,” Ahlgren said. “So they’re not going to be robots that go out in the real world and put out fires for fire companies.”

The two-day event consisted of two separate competitions: A Firefighting Home Robot Contest challenged the robots to successfully respond to a fire alarm, find the fire and then put it out in the shortest amount of time possible.

Robots participating in the firefighting competition were tasked with going through a maze that resembled a house, then locating a burning candle, which they could then either douse with water or blow out. Chairs, sofas and other items were placed around the obstacle course to improve realism.

Teams competed in five different divisions: junior (junior high students), high school, senior, expert and walking, and within each division were two subdivisions: unique design (robots designed by the team itself) and kit (robots assembled from a kit).

The other contest tasked robots with finding a refrigerator, taking out food and placing it on a table. Called the RoboWaiter contest, it took place on Saturday, March 31, and consisted of two divisions — entry and advanced. Out of more than 25 teams, a robot called DU99RWS4-V12 developed by a team from West Java, Indonesia, took first place for both divisions.

For each of the two competitions, robots were given three chances to complete the task, Ahlgren said. Winners were then chosen by a panel of judges based on the robot’s performance and time taken to complete the task.

Last weekend marked the fourth year of the RoboWaiter competition, a challenge developed by the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities, Ahlgren said.

“They were very enlightened at that time,” Ahlgren said. “And [the council] said, ‘We want to talk about robots to assist people with disabilities — motor disabilities.’ So we started this competition.”

For the firefighting robot competition held on Sunday, April 1, a first, second and third prize was given to both the unique design and kit subdivisions for all five of the competing divisions. Belgrade Wizard, a robot developed by Shanghai Jianping High School in Shanghai, China, took the grand prize for Best Unified Robotics Performance award, said David Pietrocola, a Trinity College alumnus who served as a volunteer and judge for the competition.

Pietrocola said to win the grand prize, teams had to participate in an Olympiad Exam, which is a written, theoretical exam with questions that deal with anything related to robotics. Teams that placed in the competitions were awarded medals. In addition, Pietrocola said various cash prizes, such as for a poster contest, were awarded.

Ahlgren said even though the robots built for the contest are not used for other purposes than the spirit of competition and learning, team participants attending the event had the chance to network with companies there. In years past, he said, participants have been hired by companies like iRobot.

“Kids from colleges have been hired on the spot by companies because of their robots,” Ahlgren said. “They see these wonderful, innovative designs, and they say, ‘We want you to work for us.’”


Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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