Competitive Events in Robotics and its tit-bits

  • SumoMe

Passion knows no limits. And it was passion which drove us to participate in Kshitij 2008, the technical fest of IIT Kharagpur, the one which is recognised as one of the biggest tech-fests of India. It was our first exposure to an event of such gravity and our desire was to give more than our 100 percent.

Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, structural disposition, manufacture and application of robots. Robotics was my passion right from the childhood days; how-ever didn’t have much of an idea how to make a robot. My course of engineering helped me a lot in this direction and the preliminary studies on Robotics stirred up my creativity inside. Kshitij provided me the right kind of platform to apply my passion, my dream and my engineering knowledge to practise.

Coming back to the event, or rather events; but before that let me introduce the types of robots, depending upon control. There are primarily 2 types of robots: Autonomous and Manual. The autonomous robots, as far as our domain goes, are driven my complex micro-controller programming and is self operating, once activated. The manual robots are how-ever controlled by a person, names operator through a remote control and are primarily mean for specific functions. We have experience in both the forms of robots since our group of 4 has a great programmer as well as a great operator as well.

The basics of a manual robot and its application in Robo- Racing

The first manual robot which we made was named “The Champ”, made primarily for the purpose of speed and weight lifting. The robots of such kind are usually used for competitive events like “Terra Ranger” or “Robo racing” where the robots have to cover tough terrains like sand, gravel, stones, undulating surfaces, steep slopes, oily surfaces, rotating disks and even water in the least possible time and emerge as the winner. The primary concern here is that, whatever the circumstances might be, you cannot touch your robot in between or if your robot, by chance steps out of the arena track, then you are disqualified. Thus the controller or the operator has to be very alert regarding this. Talking of the construction pattern of such a robot- Durability and susceptibility is the key. Making a robot is an expensive effort and you have to have this is mind too that it has to sustain the hardships, made specifically and deliberately for the competition. Covering the difficult terrain, especially sand and to some extent oil, needs an efficient gripping system which can be achieved by the usage of good quality spiked rubber belts acting as chain in a gear system. You can go for a plain 2-2 configuration, but it might not serve the purpose of gripping. Speed is a vitally important part in such an event as thus a proper selection of motors in indispensible. Motors are generally marked in V/RPM rating and thus should be acquired with a proper adapter having switchable voltage/current ratings. Generally an RPM rating of 100 does fine. The point to be noted here is that, since it is a manual robot, there is no way to control the speed of the same by a switch on the remote. The switchable adapter is thus very important: Switching voltages at different instants like a sharp bend or curve or while climbing along an incline, you need to slow down speed or increase speed as concerned. Special attention needs to be taken when the robot is climbing down a steep slope when the momentum bring about a damaging jerk or may force the device to topple down. The remote, by the way can have forward and reverse switches and their number will depend on the number of wheel you apply. For a chain-gear sort of arrangement, 6 wheels are a minimum and its 4 for a normal mechanism. For a belt arrangement, however, the alignment of the belt with the wheels is vitally important; else you might land your robot in trouble on a slippery surface. In manually controlled robots, short-circuit error is also a problem which might cause the robot to switch into a non functional mode mid-way through the race- Extremely undesirable. Excellent soldering and insulating systems might prove to be the remedy and yet the controller and the “wire-bearer” has to keep in mind that the voltage rating of the motors should be lesser than that of the power supply. It’s better to couple 2 motors at a time, to avoid conflicting rotation of the wheels in association. You need a good paddling system for traversing water bodies as well and we have to make sure that the robot is relatively lighter, to remain afloat. Coming to the weight lifting portion, a pulley system is effective with a tiny rope to lift an object in consideration. This might not be practically feasible every time due to the complication in the physical system of the robot, so what one can apply, is any piece of clamping material which can move up and down (by virtue of a motoring system) and can lift considerable amount of weight for the same purpose. Timing of the lift is important else the robot might topple due to shift of CG. Once a robot topples upside down, it’s almost impossible to bring it back into the competition.

Robo Wrestle –

Another form of a manual robotics event is the “Struggle for existence” or the “Robo-Wrestle” where 2 robots might for supremacy. Of course, different robots can apply different strategies for this purpose viz. Heavy weight, strong base, metal body, cutter mechanism, momentum etc. But the bottom-line is you have to force the other robot to step out of the competition arena, either by mechanical force or by witty movements. You can even take the other route i.e. damaging the other robot in such a way that it becomes motionless for a stipulated length of time. This maybe called the “immobility to death”. The arena for the Robo Wrestle events are mostly over-crowded, with supporters from either end cheering for their team, as if the contestants are themselves fighting for pride and not their robots. The main criterion of consideration is that you cannot damage the arena of the competition, if you do, you are disqualified immediately.

Autonomous Robots and line followers:

Now consider the Autonomous robots which are the most difficult to build since it thrives on precision and authority in micro controller programming. More efficient and precise the program better is the degree of flawlessness in the robot’s performance. The basic need is the microcontroller chip which is to be programmed to perform the necessary actions. Here, the function is totally automated and the initial drive in form of an IR ray is enough to make the robot movable. Sensors may help in direction determination. One can use colour sensor for “line-follower “ type events where the robot needs to move along complicated lines coloured in white on a black background or vice versa and obstacle sensors, if obstacles are there in the path too. It follows the direction as its program guides it to. This is the toughest part of robotics since a robot with a wrong command may malfunction and thus might not be efficient enough. Proper knowledge of programming as well as quick changes in commands is necessary to feature in such events and the design of the robots matter too. I am not going into details of the tit-bits of autonomous robots since this is purely technical and hands on training is the best way of representation of this device which might have quite a lot of application in the near future. I have shared a few pictures as well.

The robotics events continue to draw my attention and I will be available in this circuit till my age permits.

Sammya Brata Mullick

*This piece has been selected as a Winning Entry for the ‘Viewspaper Express Yourself Writing Competition’*

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