Staunton Gallery was full of bright and curious minds last week as SAC Robotics Club members vied for a spot at RoboCup Junior in Brazil this summer.
The club was only re-introduced last year, but the investment is already paying dividends. Grade 9 and 10 students competed in the Rescue Challenge against Trinity College School, and grade 11 and 12 SAC teams competed against each other in soccer. Eight Robotics Club members qualified to represent Canada in the rescue category and an additional seven boys qualified for the senior soccer finals.
To compete in soccer, each team had to build and program two robots that could track a plastic ball emitting infrared light. The robots could not be remote-controlled in anyway – they had to ‘think’ for themselves. One robot was designed as a goalie and the other as the striker. The objective was to score more goals than their opponent on a modified soccer-style field.
“The competition was a pretty close call even after all the weeks of preparation leading up to it,” said Parth Agarwal of the soccer team. “It was suspenseful and exciting at the same time.”
For the Rescue Challenge, a robot had to follow a black line in a maze-like fashion and then up a ramp. At the top, there was a can of pop that had to be located, lifted, and moved to a platform in one of the corners of the game field. All the tasks had to be done autonomously.
“It was definitely one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking days of this entire school year,” said Gary Zhou of the rescue team. “Looking at the robot moving by itself and navigating through the stage was a truly amazing thing. The team and I had really put in a lot of time and effort into that little thing, and fortunately it didn’t disappoint us.”
The following boys qualified for the soccer team: Parth, Jordan Brown, Henry Hsieh, Mark Hsu, Brayden Kerr, Justin Lai, and Cedric Lau. Rescue team members include: Dylan van Eeden, Charlie Elliott, Artiom Lisin, Eric Lowry, Darrian Spampinato, Tristan Tsvetanov, Derek Zhang, and Gary. The students are hoping to see a repeat of SAC’s performance in 2011, when their team finished first in the world in the RoboCup Junior Soccer Superteam category held in Turkey.
While the rescue group’s robot only made it halfway through the challenge, the team will be spending the next few weeks working out the kinks. “I am very excited for Brazil and looking forward to what the robot’s full potential is on the international stage,” Gary commented.
In order to fully understand the complexities and impressiveness of these robots, one needs to see the robots in action. From a distance, it looks as though the robots are controlled remotely, but they are autonomous, ‘thinking’ for themselves using input from their infrared detectors for sight, ultrasonic range finders for distance, and a compass for direction.
“With the final competition coming up, our first priority is to tweak our robot to a more stable and reliable design, one that can consistently perform the same task at a competitive pace,” Parth remarked.
According to the RoboCup website, “There are few events that match the complexity of RoboCup. It is both a venue for artificial intelligence and intelligent robotics research and a display of the advancements in a format visible for people who are not experts, and allows them to share the enthusiasm of the researchers.”
The popularity of robotics at St. Andrew’s has grown steadily over the past few years. What started as a club in 2006 turned into a grade 11 and 12 computer engineering course and a club was introduced for grade 9 and 10 students.