Report from a hardcore LEGO Sumo contest

Geek Culture

GeekDad hero Steve Hassenplug, who is perhaps the best LEGO robotics builder in the world, writes in with a guest post, reporting on the Mindstorms contest he hosted at his house near Chicago last week. Over to Steve:

"I have lots of cool stuff that goes on in my basement.  Just last weekend, I had an International LEGO Mindstorms Robotic Sumo Competition, with over 100 LEGO robots entered by builders from countries around the world.
The judges narrowed the field to about 30 robots, which actually battled on the sumo ring over a couple days, to eventually determine a single winner.

OK, so that doesn’t happen every week.  But you may wonder how it happens at all.  Well, it started a couple years ago when LEGO tapped me and asked if I wanted to be involved in the development of their latest robotic kit, the LEGO Mindstorms NXT.  I jumped at the chance, and have been "working" with them ever sense.

Thanks to the web, I’ve been lucky enough to find four friends in my neighborhood (state) that are as interested (obsessed) with this hobby as I am.  To explain the extent of our "interest", when people ask how many Mindstorms NXT kits I have, I usually say "More than most schools."   I think between the five of us, we have more than 40
kits.  Somewhere along the way, I got e-mail from someone talking about me and my "Robotics Posse".  So, we have a group, and our group has a name.

One day, I was looking at the LEGO web site where people can submit their robots, and I realized we could have a contest where people submit their robots on line, and we actually build them at my house and have a "live"
competition.  Well the rest of the posse, and LEGO all jumped at the idea.

So it began.  The challenge was to design & build a LEGO sumo robot who’s goal is to push another robot out of a 4 foot circle.  Entries would be judged based on the quality of the submission, the best entries would be built and then battle for the championship.  The challenge was posted on
NXTLog and entries started coming in.  A week before the deadline, there were 50
entries.  Days before the deadline, the submission rate shot up, and when it was all done, there were over 110 entries.

I enter a lot of competitions, but this contest was a bit different from any
I’d seen.  In order to enter, you pretty much had show everyone exactly what you’ve done.  There were no secrets.  No hidden hardware tricks, or secret software stuff.  The better the documentation, the higher the chance of being selected to reach the second round and actually compete.

The hardest part (and least fun for me) was judging the submissions, and trying to select just a few.  We had to narrow the field to about 1/4 it’s original size, and that eliminated many very good designs.  Once we picked out the best submissions, we also picked a couple random entries.  These were robots that we knew wouldn’t do too well, but we wanted to give a couple lucky builders a chance to participate. 

Then, we actually started building.  First, we built the "Last
Chance" robots, and battled them.  Out of that group, one winner advanced to the "Main event" where robots were built and randomly divided into groups (pools).  Each robot battled all others in their pool.  The top robots advanced to the elimination round, and the losing robots were destroyed.  The Robotics Posse built a total of 29 robots over a couple days.

The double-elimination round started with several good robots, and a couple lucky ones (ten robots, in all).  The lucky robots were quickly eliminated, and the best rose to the top.  In the end, there was one very deserving winner (shown).

My two boys (age 5 & 7) had a great time.  They got to run some of the robots, but I’m not sure they really understand the scope of what they were involved in.  At one point, they ran a robot designed by a 9 yr old from
Italy against a robot designed by an 11 yr old from Singapore.  There were robots from Australia, India, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia (not to mention the US and Canada).  It was quite the world-class event. 

But, for my boys it was just another day in our basement.  I love being a geek dad."

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