Start preparing for Robocup Junior 2017. Learn to program your robot to navigate various challenges in an obstacle course. 
Start preparing for Robocup Junior 2017. Learn to program your robot to navigate various challenges in an obstacle course. 

With the Queensland Robocup Junior Competition now finished, it is never too early to  start planning for next year’s contest. There are three competition types at Robocup Junior: Dance, Soccer and Rescue. 

For the Rescue Competition there are  two age divisions: primary school and secondary school. As one of the judges for the Primary School Rescue Competition, here are some of my tips on how to become the 2017 Robocup Junior Rescue Competition Champion.

The objective of the Rescue competition (2016 rules) is to program a robot to navigate an obstacle course, the “rescue field”, and “rescue” a “rescue capsule” from the “spill zone.” The robot is required to get through the obstacle course to the spill zone, identify the rescue capsule, an aluminium can, and push the rescue capsule out of the spill zone. Points are given for meeting the objectives and points are deducted for various events e.g. restarting the robot. 

This list of skills to learn will be updated in 2017 when the new rules are published, but here is a starting plan based on the 2016 rules. 

Here are some functions you should learn to program and that your robot should be able to execute:

  1. Follow a straight line (black line on white background)
  2. Go over speed bumps
  3. Follow a gentle curve
  4. Follow a hair pin turn e.g., 7cm radius 180 degree turn
  5. Follow a right angle (90 degree) corner
  6. Make a decision as to which turn to take at a fork in the road (with green square indicators)
  7. Continue on a dashed line
  8. Continue with a gap in the line
  9. Go up and down ramps including a see-saw
  10. Detect an obstacle (water tower) and go around it to connect back onto the line
  11. Identify when it is in a green area
  12. Detect the rescue capsule, a 375 ml aluminium can wrapped in aluminium foil. 
  13. Push or pull the rescue capsule out of the spill zone (green area).

Extra notes:

  • Make sure your robot is small enough to fit through the doorway
  • Understand how to make the best use of the drop zone by placing the chip (plastic coin) in the most optimal location. This is covered below. 

Here is a month by month plan on how to prepare for the 2017 Robocup Junior competition. From January to August 2017:

January

  • Form a team for the competition. Minimum of two per team.
  • Decide on when and how often you will meet as a team to prepare for the competition.

February

  • Build robot version 1 e.g. motorised wheels and colour sensor. Most student teams use Lego Mindstorms EV3 or the NXT. 
  • Learn to measure reflected light intensity (RLI) for black and white line. You will need to do this every time you change your battery. 
  • A simple line-follower program for a straight line.

March

  • Develop a line-follower program for a curved lines: gentle turns, hairpin turns, right-angle corner.
  • Program robot to be capable of going up and down ramps and see-saws.

April

  • School holidays
  • Program robot to cope with speed bumps, dashed lines.

May

  • Program robot to detect obstacles, e.g. water tower, navigate around it and rejoin line.
  • Rebuild robot with new sensors as required. 

June

  • School holidays
  • Program robot to make decisions at forks in the road.
  • Program robot to make the decision to take the shortcut option.

July

  • Program rescue i.e. pushing an aluminium can, wrapped in aluminium foil, outside of spill zone.
  • Program robot to recognise that it is in the spill zone, search for rescue capsule, and push out of spill zone. 
  • Rebuild the robot with new sensors as required.

August – State competitions

  • Practice and refine programming
  • Ensure all rules are followed
  • Learn how to make the most of the Drop Zone rule. The Drop Zone rule was introduced in 2016. 

The Drop Zone Rule

Based on the 2016 competition rules, the student can place the chip anywhere on the field, but only as close to the spill area as two tiles, i.e. you can place the chip at the end of the third last tile before the spill zone to use re-start the robot before the start of the second last tile. See image below. 

As a judge for the rescue competition I noticed that this area had the greatest room for improvement where students could make the biggest impact to their score. However it is a bit difficult to understand how to make the most out of the Drop Zone rule. The decision of where to locate the drop zone chip needs to be made based on the weakness of the robot and the challenges in the field design. 

Where you can locate the
Where you can locate the “drop zone” chip closest to the “spill zone” – 2 tiles back from the spill zone.

Make the most of the Drop Zone Rule

If your robot has no known weakness, the best place to locate the chip is as close to the spill zone as possible, i.e. two tiles away. This way if the robot needs a second attempt to make the rescue at the spill zone then this is as close as you can get to it. 

If you know your robot can complete the rescue move at the spill zone, i.e. push the aluminium can out of the green area, but occasionally has difficulty in doing so, then the best place to locate the drop zone chip is as close to the spill zone as possible. I.e. two tiles away. 

If you know your robot cannot complete the rescue move at the spill zone, i.e. push the aluminium can out of the green area, but you want to be able to attempt getting as many points as possible, then locate the most challenging tile for your robot. This may be:

  • Detect obstacle, e.g. water tower, and navigate around it to rejoin the line. 
  • Make a decision on which turn to take at fork in the line. 
  • Continue along a dashed line
  • Make acute turns

If you know that your robot will struggle with going around the water tower, then a good place to locate the chip is to allow your robot to re-start after the water tower so that you can collect the points located after the water tower. See image below. 

If you know that your robot will struggle with choosing with turn to take at a fork in the line, then a good place to locate the chip is to allow your robot to re-start after that tile so that you can collect the points located after that challenging tile. 

How to make the most of the drop zone rule when your robot has a weakness in its programming. 
How to make the most of the drop zone rule when your robot has a weakness in its programming. 

With Term 4 2016 remaining, start playing around with your robot. Teach it to follow a straight line, and then a curved line or dashed line. Above all, remember to have fun. The more fun we have the more we learn. 

Robocup Junior Queensland 2016 - Soccer Challenge: straight lines, water tower (water bottle) to avoid, seesaw and curved lines for the robot to navigate
Robocup Junior Queensland 2016 – Soccer Challenge: straight lines, water tower (water bottle) to avoid, seesaw and curved lines for the robot to navigate