11/24/08 — Battle of the bots at Charles B. Aycock High School

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Battle of the bots at Charles B. Aycock High School

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 24, 2008 1:53 PM


Payton Bailey reacts after her "Sumobot" is pushed off the mat during a wrestling competition inside the Engineering Lab at Wayne Community College.

Charles B. Aycock High School freshman Payton Bailey was not happy with her fighting robot.

"What are you doing? Stop being stupid!" she told it, as the tiny robot -- named, coincidentally, "Stupid" -- successfully fended off an attack, only to turn around and run away in the opposite direction.

"Stupid" and the 14 other Sumobot robots were built by students in the high school's engineering academy.

The class met at Wayne Com-munity College Thursday to finish constructing and programming the robots, with help from second-year engineering students at the college.

The roughly four-inch-tall, boxy robots sported tiny bulldozer shovels that resembled snow plow blades and large wheels to provide extra traction.

The fighting arena was a white circle drawn on a large black mat, much like a sumo wrestling court. The battles were similar to the famous Japanese sport, too, with each robot trying to push its opponent out of the circle.

Although, as the students soon discovered, just as often the robots would cross the boundary marker and forfeit the match to their opponent.

High school junior Alexander Davis explained how the robots worked and why they behaved as they did.

"They tell the difference between black and white," Davis said. "If they see another object, they'll go toward it."

The robots sometimes ran away from fights or spun in circles because they couldn't see where they were going, he said.

"If they can't see anything, they go on a search pattern. I don't think they can see all that well."

Becky Taylor, instructor of electronics at Wayne Community College, was the first point of contact between the high school and college.

"We were certainly looking for something to pique their curiosity in electronics," she said. "They learn a bit about electronics and robotics, and they have fun."

The Sumobots were built from kits that included enough components to make two robots, at a cost of $200 per kit. The kits were purchased with money from a technology preparation grant, and are reused every year as new groups of students move through the program.

On the line for the battlers' creators was the chance to win a programmable Scribbler robot.

And, of course, bragging rights.

Discrepancies in the playoffs led to problems. A crowd of students swarmed timekeeper Angela Wall, an instructor of industrial systems at Wayne Community College, until she decided to redraw part of the brackets.

"It's coming down to batteries and traction," said Ms. Wall, co-organizer of the event, as two robots locked wheels.

The storm trooper piloting Nick Hiker's "Star Wars Bot" was still holding his red lightsaber defiantly when the robot lost in the quarterfinals.

Jessie Stewart's robot "Chuck" made it through a number of fights, only to be taken out in the semifinals.

Ms. Bailey's "Stupid" battled its way through the double-elimination rounds, despite losing an eye in an earlier match.

"My hands are shaking, I can't do it," she said as a classmate helped her perform repairs.

Nerves were taut after Justin's robot, named "Justin," won the second of three bouts in the championship match, tying the competition 1-1.

The room was quiet as the challengers reset their robots. One last scuffle would determine the winner.

As the fighters came out shoving strongly, the deciding round looked like it would be close. But after a brief, fierce struggle, "Stupid" managed to overpower its opponent and claim victory.

"I can't believe it," Ms. Bailey said after winning. "I'm just glad a girl won."

Student Miles Pleasant, whose robot was knocked out of the competition earlier, felt differently.

"I was cheated," he said.