Battling Robots: Knox's 2012 'Sumo' Competition

February 28, 2012

Knox College Computer Science Department's Sumo Robot Contest

Article by Laura Pochodylo '14
Photography by Mia Sol del Valle '15

Now in its 10th year, the annual Sumo Robot Competition hosted by the Knox College Computer Science Department has become a unique tradition enjoyed by students, faculty, and members of the Galesburg community alike.

The 2012 event, held February 24, consisted of two parts: a tournament-style battle in which each robot tried to push an opposing robot out of a ring (photo below), and a timed contest involving a can.

"The objective is to find the can, grasp it, and get it out of the ring as fast as possible," said Professor John Dooley, who holds the William and Marilyn Ingersoll Chair in Computer Science at Knox and chairs the College's Department of Computer Science. He served as master of ceremonies for the competition, and Jaime Spacco, assistant professor of computer science, was the official timekeeper.Knox College Computer Science Department's Sumo Robot Contest

Participants built and programmed their robots using Lego Mindstorms kits, which include various sensors, a microcomputer, software, and Lego pieces. Some builders gleaned inspiration from elsewhere.

"We started with a different robot, but scrapped it after we got better ideas from looking on YouTube," said Knox sophomore Andrew Cook.

Cook was a member of the team that built one of the winning robots, named 1996. His teammates were sophomores Evan Balzuweit and Tom Carr. All three played with Legos as children.

"This is like advanced Legos," Balzuweit said.

Stuart Allison, Knox professor of biology, helped build a robot with his daughters, Gwendolyn and Gillian. That robot, Robotie, maneuvered out of the ring and into the crowd a few times.

"We'll have to talk to these guys about our programming," Allison said, gesturing toward the members of another team. "I don't think (Robotie's) very well tamed."

2012 Sumo Winners

Sumo Challenge
First: Sexy Sam -- Andrei Papancea, Avinab Rajbhandary
Second: Wall-E II -- Stefan Feer, Sung Joo Lee
Third: 1996 -- Evan Balzuweit, Tom Carr, Andrew Cook

Timed Sumo Challenge
First: 1996 -- Evan Balzuweit, Tom Carr, Andrew Cook
Second: Robotie -- Gwendolyn Allison, Gillian Allison
Third: Wall-E II -- Stefan Feer, Sung Joo Lee

The winner of the battle portion of the competition -- the "Sumo Challenge" -- was Sexy Sam, a robot created by sophomore Andrei Papanacea and junior Avinab Rajbhandary. Sexy Sam's key to success was the effective use of ultrasonic sensors.

Dooley explained that these sensors "use sound to bounce off the other robot to locate it."

The winner of the timed, can-grasping competition -- the "Timed Sumo Challenge" -- was 1996. Dooley praised 1996's "minimalist design" as its key to success.

"I think we did really well," Carr said. "We would make it heavier next time, though."

Stefan Fear and Sung-Joo Lee, both Knox seniors, brought a robot named Wall-E II to the competition, placing second in the Sumo Challenge and third in the Timed Sumo Challenge. The original Wall-E didn't fare as well last year.

Lee credits this year's success to testing the robot in the competition ring and focusing on its sturdy construction.

"It's really more about the building than the programming," he said.

(Photos below, from left to right, top to bottom: Professor John Dooley keeps track of the competitors. Opponents prepare to compete in the Sumo Challenge. A robot pushes a can out of the ring in the Timed Sumo Challenge. Robotie escapes from the ring and heads toward spectators.)

Computer Science Professor John Dooley Sumo Robot Contest
Sumo Robot Contest Sumo Robot Contest