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Machine: You've Met Your Match

Students wrestle with programming as robot competition explores new territory

March 25, 2014

Computer Robot Competition 2014 Computer Robot Competition 2014 Computer Robot Competition 2014 Computer Robot Competition 2014Computer Robot Competition 2014

Computer robots, built and programmed by Knox College students, are breaking into new territory, showcased in the 12th annual Sumo Robot Competition, held recently in the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center.

"This year we got new Lego Mindstorm robot kits with more memory and capabilities," said Jaime Spacco, associate professor of computer science. "We created a half-credit independent study course where the students could really push the limits of these systems."

In addition to the featured "sumo" match-ups -- robots programmed to shove each other out of a four-foot ring -- students in the independent study course tested their robots at tasks that included recognizing colors and manipulating objects.

The first challenge for the independent study teams was getting their robots to run programs written in Java, a more advanced language than the EV3 language that comes with the Lego kits.

"Programming the robots in Java will allow students to do much more sophisticated tasks," Spacco said.

"The audience couldn't see this, but getting Java running on these robots was very challenging," Spacco said. "These new kits only came out in the fall, and Java is not part of the kit. The unofficial instructions came out just a few weeks ago, and a patch for some of the robot sensors came out about 10 days ago. The class met one night a week, and the teams put in a lot of extra hours."

Teammates Ian Horne and Austen Lake worked to program their robot in Java, then had to change plans after a last-minute software glitch. "One of the cool things that Austen and I did was getting the Java Virtual Machine up and running on machines that didn't originally have it," Horne said. "We had to do some funky stuff with an SD card, and we learned a lot."

2014 Sumo Robot Competition. Full-screen and captions available in a set at the Knox College Flickr channel