Tournament Showcases Programming Skills

Leggo My Robot: Plastic Grapplers Are Computer-Controlled

March 06, 2009

"The results of the competition will not affect your grades," said computer science professor John Dooley, joking with the students he went up against, in Knox College's Annual Sumo Robot Competition.

The February 26, 2009 contest featured small, programmable robots that Dooley and three student teams had assembled using Lego Mindstorms kits. Rules call for robots to detect each other and push their opponent(s) out of a three-foot plywood circle. Resources are limited to Mindstorms kits: battery powered motors, Lego pieces and a rudimentary computer with its own simple programming language. The competition, now in its seventh year, originated as part of the computer science department's course in Artificial Intelligence.

Dooley's robot was the smallest of the competitors, finishing fourth of four. Dooley concedes that he has not changed his program nor upgraded to the more advanced Mindstorms NXT kits that the students used. "My robot is the same one I've been using for the last five years or so. Simple is good!" Dooley initiated the competition in 2003 to help teach the integration of computer programming and mechanical control systems.

Chi Zhang


Moments ahead of the competition, Chi Zhang, a senior computer science major from Shenyang, China, tweaks his robot.

Chi Zhang


Zhang dubs his robot "Ah! Push It!"

John Dooley, Keegan Siebken


Computer science professor John Dooley (left) and Keegan Siebken hit the start buttons for their match, while assistant professor of computer science Don Blaheta serves as timekeeper at the blackboard.

John Dooley, Don Blaheta, Keegan Siebken


Siebken, a sophomore physics and theatre major from Galesburg, Illinois, celebrates a win.

Edward Dale, Keegan Siebken


Teammates Edward Dale, a junior biochemistry major from Roscoe, Illinois; and Siebken congratulate each other on the first place finish for their robot, "Sparkles." Also on their team was Margaret Allen, a junior physics major from Durham, Connecticut.

John Pierce-Ruhland, John Dooley


John Pierce-Ruhland, a junior from Racine, Wisconsin, watches as his robot, "Nameless Inversion," upends itself -- a planned maneuver -- before going on to win the match with Dooley's robot. Pierce-Ruhland's teammate was John Christiansen, a sophomore from Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

John Dooley


Professor Dooley shows his robot, "Winter," and explains to spectators that gearing and traction are key factors in performance, as well as the programming strategy that each team used.