Copyright © MaxRoboTech. All rights reserved. 2014-2015
Entering a Robot Contest, Rewarding and
Fun for the Whole Family! by Bob Gross
In 2002, my daughter Nicole built her first robot. Being age twelve at the time, she would not have initiated this on her own, but mini sumo robot kits were about $100, came with great instructions, and were not that hard to build. I selected the Mark III robot kit. I felt it would make for some very good father daughter time. I sat beside her during the build. I taught her how to solder and she soldered every connection. Together we read the instructions, and she built the whole project. (I did step in and complete the code that ran the robot, as this would have taken too long to bring her up to speed before the upcoming contests.) This then evolved into a family event, where my kids, my wife, and I attended nearby contests. Here she entered the robot in a mini sumo robot contests where the robot did well, even taking second place. Later she used this robot project for a Science Fair project. Then in 2006, Aaron (age six), Kristin (age seven) and I all built robots. At this time Aaron, Kristin and I selected the Sumovore Mini-Sumo Robot Kit, as this basic kit didn't require any programming experience, yet it could easily be upgraded to allow micro-controllers and additional sensors. (Through hole soldering and assembly skills are easily picked up with training and practice, even for careful youngsters.) We all built identical robots except for the color and markings. We printed three sets of instructions. Nicole (now the older fifteen year old sister “with experience”) had fun helping her younger brother and sister. I would select the proper component and then show them where it went on my robot. They would then select and place their own component. At the time I had three soldering irons, so everyone soldered their own components in place. It is interesting how much “ownership of the project” this experience has on a young person. They absolutely wanted to solder their own robot kit! We went through the work of gluing on extra weight and upgrading to soft rubber bands for traction. Aaron named his blue robot Superman. Kristin named her red robot Garfield. I named my black robot Larry-Boy. Aaron & Kristin were now very involved when our family went to robot contests. Although the robots were identical in almost every respect, Aaron's robot “Superman”, statistically placed first in most of the contests we entered. Superman, was clearly outperforming to the point that Aaron started saying, “Nothing can beat Superman”. This caused Kristin (now eight years old) to want to upgrade her robot. In 2007, she bought and built the micro-controller upgrade kit, and added additional smarts to her robot. She used unmodified stock code supplied with the kit, but this code performed super well. Now her robot Garfield would many times beat Superman.
Mini-Sumo Robot Kits
Kits are a great way to get started in robotics and robot contests. The Sumovore Robot Kit doesn't require programming, (but can be upgraded later if desired), is a great kit. (It can also be used as a line following robot.) A web page listing this robot together with a list of the variable upgrades can be found here. Assembly instructions for the Sumovore can be found here. The Mark III Robot Kit is a low-cost, more complex, programmable sumo robot. You will need to be much more familiar with electronics and programming for this kit as there is a lot more stuff to setup once this kit hardware is completed. This is sold from here. Assembly instructions for the Mark III can be found here.
Robot Clubs and Contests
I have generally been part of “local” robot club, where local means the nearest robot club, even if it meant a two hour drive. These clubs typically have yearly robot contests. These contests have the remarkable effect of getting many people frantically involved with building and getting robots ready for the contest. A current listing of many of these robot clubs and robot contests can be found here on the Arrick web site.
Tech Tip: Reasonably priced LiPo batteries specific for robots can be found here. Although now somewhat dated, in 2001, for the book, "Building Your Own Combat Robot", I wrote the chapter on robot batteries and contributed to the sumo robot and autonomous robot chapters in the book. (I wasn't put on the author list, but was instead mentioned in the book's “About the Contributors...” section.)