Whatever you picture in your head and think about when you hear the words “robot-sumo” is probably right: it is a sport in which two robots (not the kind you see in movies, but real ones) try to push each other out of a circle-like arena. These robots are called sumobots and they’re a lot stronger than you might think.
Battle of the robots – what & where
Battlelab Robotica in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, is the event if you’re into robots – some of the best sumobots in the country (and also internationally) were present on May 21st 2016 and fought to the last ounce of battery life they had left. The event has quite the history: it started out in 2011, when BEST Cluj-Napoca and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca decided to create a sumo robot competition. A unique event in the city’s history – and quite out of the box regardless, we might add.
This competition is addressed to any student out there, eager to test out his or her knowledge of mechanical and electronical engineering (a lot of hardware building going on there), as well as coding (writing the scripts for the robots to move and be controlled). That being said, we were thrilled to support one of the teams, The Robotechs (Crinela Potinteu, Istvan Szekely, Gabriel Gego and Sergiu Maja) as official sponsors in their quest to build “Reaper”. Pretty challenging, right? We got together with Sergiu Maja, Robotechs team member, to find out just how challenging this entire experience was.
So how does building a robot from scratch work?
“Basically, it’s a lot of work” he tells us. “You gotta start somewhere, so you come up with a plan for how you’d like your robot to work and look like. We had a lot of help from our professor, Septimiu Crisan. Every time we were looking for different elements for our robot, there was something new to learn and to consider for our project. Once we got our plan straight, we started sending out emails to any company we could think of, kindly asking for sponsorships. You can’t imagine how thrilled we were when we got a positive reply”. Come spring, The Robotechs finally got all the financial support they needed to start ordering the robot’s “body parts”. And Tapptitude couldn’t be more proud to have been of help.
How was “Reaper” born?
“FSA Romania were nice enough to arrange a meet-up for us with one of their designers, Vasi Sandru. He was extremely helpful by designing the chassis of our robot. And this is actually the part where we came up with the name. Initially we wanted the front of the chassis to be curved. It somewhat resembled a scythe, so my colleague Istvan suggested we call it Grim Reaper. Somehow we ended up calling our robot Reaper.”
How did the week before the event look like for The Robotechs?
“Once we had our chassis we thought everything else would be smooth sailing; that we’d just have to assemble all the remaining parts and that would be it. It wasn’t. Reaper was 700gr above the 3 kg limit of our competition, which is Mega-Sumo (robots have to weigh up to 3 kg and fit in a 20x20cm box). Unfortunately this meant making changes to our beautifully designed chassis; by Wednesday we had the weight part all figured out.”
The week preceding the contest was a marathon – we would have never imagined not leaving school by 12 am, but we did. Fortunately we had a lot of help from our professor and our more experienced competitors – their advice and tips got us through. By Friday things were looking up: Gabi took care of what meant electronical engineering and Crinela was in charge with the robot’s “brains” – the program. We had an all nighter planned out for testing, making sure everything works fine. An indescribable feeling hit us seeing the wheels of little Reaper turn for the first time.
And like any other indescribable feeling, it didn’t last long. We tried a more complex program on Reaper and that’s when we saw something we’d rather not: smoke. One of the parts had a fault. It was the H-deck, a driver supposed to control the engines. Unfortunately, it was one of the parts we didn’t have a backup for. It was 2 am at night and all hope was lost, but we were too tired and wired up to realize that. We still hoped that somehow, by some chance, early in the morning our problems would be fixed and we’d be able to compete.”
What did this experience mean to you, the four Robotechs?
“We’d do it all over again. Definitely. It meant a lot of hours of work and worries, a lot of mixed feelings; and even though we did not compete in the end, it was all worth it. We got the chance to get out of our comfort zone, put our knowledge and limits to the test. It’s not how you get to spend every day.
We’ll definitely be competing again next year; we know we’ve got what it takes and we learned a lot from this experience. Never give up, never stop trying.”
That’s a wrap everyone – see you next year!