Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Robots battle to cheers, groans

Students test their engineering skills

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The sounds of whirring electric motors, cheers of victory and groans of defeat filled the large gymnasium at Tec Voc High School Saturday for the 17th annual Manitoba Robot Games.

The day-long event attracted 98 competitors from grade school to high school from across the province.

The "battle games" involved small robots akin to trucks whose objective was to push their competitor off a round playing field.

Other events included a tractor pull, an all-terrain obstacle course and a follow-the-line competition for untethered, programmed bots.

"We've inspired 10,000 students to consider engineering that probably never would have," Ian Elwood-Oates, a retired teacher, said.

Games spokesman Herb Reynolds said participants purchase the basic kit and then modify it for strategic gain.

The "battle games" are formally known as the mini Sumo (maximum weight 500 grams) and the Prairie Sumo ( one metre wide, maximum weight three kilograms).

"They can go for speed or torque, depending on what they think is the best strategy," Reynolds said.

In the tethered Sumo games, the bots are controlled by a tethered game controller. Most of the competitors in these events designed bots that look like trucks with large, wide slides attached to the front.

"The blade lets you lift the other guy up and that takes away his traction and then you can push him off," Christopher Barkwell, 12, a Grade 6 student from Robert H. Smith School, said.

The little bots line up side by side, facing in opposite directions. When the referee gives the word, the competitors manoeuvre their bots into position to either use the blade to lift their opponents' wheels off the playing surface or push them with brute force off the playing field (either 0.77 metres or 1.52 metres in diameter).

Christopher's Raging Robo Lemur was three-for-six by mid-afternoon.

Christopher was participating for the first time. He built his bot at school.

"It's been fun," Christopher said. "You get to built a robot and fight."

There is a pit area, where competitors repair damaged bots between competitions.

That's where Gabriel Baer, 14, was spotted, busily working on his bot's blade.

"I have to get it as flat as I can, so it can better lift up the others," Gabriel, from Crystal Springs School, said. This was Gabriel's third time at the games.

Of the 98 participants this year, the largest contingent, 33 entries, was from the school at the Crystal Springs Hutterite Colony.

Acadia Junior High had 22 entries; another 11 entries were from the Manitoba School for the Deaf; Robert H. Smith had seven entries, and five students were from Laura Secord School.

The untethered, or autonomous, Sumo games are more sophisticated, with the bot's movements controlled by a computer which uses sensors to keep it inside the playing field and search out and push its competitor.

Sean Thomson got hooked on the Robot Games when he was 14 years old in junior high. He specialized in the autonomous mini Sumo games and won six successive championships.

Now studying electronic engineering technology at Red River College, Thomson, 20, is a volunteer with the game's organizing committee.

"For anyone who is interested in robotics, this is the place to be," Thomson said. "Everyone here has the same interest and it's lots of fun."

There are cash prizes ($100, $50 and $25) for the top three in each category, along with plaques they take home.

Reynolds said the games are an initiative of the Science Council of Manitoba. The competition is sponsored by a variety of businesses, professional organizations and government agencies.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

video player to use on WFP

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 18, 2012 A5

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Updated on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 10:03 AM CDT: adds video

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