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From software algorithms to material selection, Mr. Roboto strives to meet you
where you are — and what more would you expect from a complex service droid?
Robot competition season is upon us. Just check the
SERVO Magazine calendar to find the one closest to you.
As I write this column, the SparkFun AVC (Autonomous
Vehicle Competition) has completed and the results have
been posted. This competition is a bit different than most
you see. The rules are simple, and occasionally capricious folks
come from all over the US, and some from other countries as
well to compete. All your robot needs to do is circumnavigate
the SparkFun building in the fastest time to win.
There are two categories: ground and aircraft. In this
third year of the competition, SparkFun estimates that nearly
700 people showed up to compete or watch robots. I don’t
know the full list of competitors, but the ground crowd was
somewhere around 40 or more robots. The aerial class had
about 10 there, but not all actually got into the air. Since this
is in Colorado, you can’t trust the weather ... ever. On the day
of the competition, it was cold and there was a light snowfall.
As the day went on, we moved to rain and in the afternoon
we actually saw some daylight. Needless to say, robots had
to be able to deal with moisture in the air and on the ground.
It seemed that the clouds hampered folks’ GPS units
since many vehicles had problems getting position locks.
Only two aircraft finished the course; many crashed and some
just wandered off into the wild blue yonder (and amazingly
survived!). We had some very entertaining entries (like AV
Saurus Rex and Dr. Zeus’ Magical Flaming Banana). The
SparkFun band was playing and everyone enjoyed themselves
(when they weren’t freezing). There was a lot to see and I
don’t remember the names of all of the robots and their
teams, but I’ve included some shots of the event here.
In short, the winner of the ground competition was Team
TOBOR (puzzle time ... what is that backwards?). In the aerial
division, Team Robota finally came out on top. This is their
second year in a row to win. Team Robota is clearly the team
to beat in the air. SparkFun gave a few more awards for
those robots that entertained the crowds, and they were:
14 SERVO 07.2011
• Crowd Pleaser (Most Entertaining): AV Saurus Rex.
• Engineers Choice (Best Technical Design): Plan B.
• Kill Switch Award (Most Dangerous): DIY Drones.
• Water Hazard Award (Finds the Pond and/or Stream):
• Rookie Award (Best First-Time Competitor): Viator.
• Best Dressed (Most Interesting Costume/Vehicle): Dr.
Zeus’ Magical Flaming Banana.
SparkFun also gave tours, so we got a glimpse into
how innovative the place really is. SparkFun is filled with
interesting rooms where interesting projects become
products, and where products get turned into interesting
projects, as well. I recommend the tour for newcomers. It
shows how a small company can respond to the needs of
hobbyists’ whims and become a profitable business. (Take
THAT huge megacorps!) You can see in the photos how
fascinated the next generation of engineers can be with
their stuff. And just when you think you’ve seen it all,
SparkFun comes out with a way to help MIT stock cool
stuff for student
projects: a vending
machine. What a cool
The weather at AVC
2011 tried its best to
dampen enthusiasm, but
robots STILL won the
day. Food vendors, lots
of pavilions to protect
robots (and their
creators) from the
elements, and bleachers
(which no one used, you
know, kind of wet ...)
helped everyone keep
the human’s spirits up
(no one asked the robots
how they felt about the
The SparkFun vending machine.
Who wouldn’t want one at school?