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Monday, February 23, 2009

AI and Robots: VEX Robotics Competition World Championship

Two days from today, and between April 22 and 24, the 2009-2010 VEX Robotics Competition World Championship will be held at Dallas Conventional Center where over 3000 contestants from 14 countries around the world will meet and fight their guts out (correction, fight their robots' guts out).

It is interesting that I only heard about this competition a few days ago from my wife because she is actually working on arranging hotel and travel for the Chinese team. Therefore, I looked it up and hence, today's blog post. :)

The main sponsor of the competition is a company called Vex Robotics Design System, who makes and sells robotics kits to hobbyists and young students. At the beginning of the season each year, the organizer would announce a new challenge, and students around the world can then form teams to compete in this world-wide competition using robots built from, of course, the VEX robotics kit. Contestants contained mostly middle school and high school students. However, even elementary school students can compete in this competition. These teams then compete against each other at the local and regional level until finalists are determined who then compete in the world championship. The competition is presently in its third season. The challenge for the 2008-2009 season is called Elevation Challenge, and the new one for the 2009-2010 season is called Clean Sweep Challenge.

The video below is from last year's world championship, also held at Dallas Conventional Center.


This year's challenge is the clean sweep challenge where two teams, each team using two robots, are divided into two courts, and the goal is to rack up as many points in a fixed time by pushing, shoveling, throwing, and dumping balls out of the team's own court and into the opponent's court. In the first 20 seconds of the game, the robots will play autonomously by running programs written by the contestants. For the remaining duration of the game, each robot is teleoperated using a remote control by contestants. Each team is free to design the robots anyway they like, and the only constraint is that the size of each robot can not exceed a certain limit (read the detailed description of the rules). The video below is the game animation describing the game in detail.


Since each team has to fight all the way from local to international, there are plenty of videos of games played at different cities and regions. The video below shows a game played by team number 8888 from La Salle High School in the semifinals (probably at the country level). You can probably see that during the first 20 seconds, the robots looked very dumb and didn't really do much. This is probably due to the difficulty for pre-college-level students to master and implement advanced AI algorithms and techniques. However, the students still have to put in a lot of effort designing and implementing these robots from an mechanical engineering perspective. Still though, it would be so nice if we see people designing fully autonomous robots (or robots with supervisory control) to compete in such interesting games.


I wish all the contestants the best luck in the upcoming world competition. I am sure they will all have a ton of fun and hopefully many of them will grow up into sincere robotists.

Video of the Day:

The street magician!