RoboGames 2023: The Times, The Bots, The People
I’ve been part of RoboGames since its beginning in 2004. I initially competed and judged RoboMagellan (a contest developed by the Seattle Robotics Society) and later TableTop Navigation (known as the TABLEBot Challenge, created by the HomeBrew Robotics Club). The last RoboGames was in 2018, so it’s been a long five years. I also have since moved back to Tallahassee, FL – 2,500 long miles away.
Fortunately, I can stay in Hayward, CA with my long-time robot-building buddies, John Erickson and John Carlini, so I shipped my TABLEBot — named “Buggy3” — via UPS. I arrived early in California and stayed late from April 1-13 (RoboGames was April 6-9). I enjoyed visiting friends, family, and former colleagues in California for the first few days. Then, an email arrived from Event Coordinator Dave Calkins: Opening Ceremony tomorrow. Please make sure you are at the venue by 10 am.
Whoops! RoboGames started on Thursday. I thought it started on Friday. Fortunately, Thursday was more of a press day, an organization day, and an excellent time to visit with everyone and see their robots.
Unfortunately, my TABLEBot that I had shipped from Florida (that should have arrived Wednesday — but not guaranteed) had yet to show up.
Okay, so Thursday passes, and still no robot. To make matters worse, a friend — Jack Buffington in PA — had also sent a robot to where I was staying in Hayward. I was supposed to “press the button” and watch it do its thing. (This is what robots are for, right?) You don’t need to be there for a robot to do its thing. Long story short, Jack’s robot had not shown up either. Jack’s robot was supposed to compete in the “Muscle Wire Crawl.” It is, unfortunately (although appropriately) named the “Robot Snail.”
I’d given up on competing in the TableTop Navigation event as it was now Friday, and the event was to be held at 6 pm. At 3 pm, the “Ring” doorbell camera senses a delivery. Hallelujah! My two boxes and Jack’s robot! Erickson quickly drove back to Hayward and returned to RoboGames 30 minutes before the TableTop Navigation event.
There were five entries in TableTop Nav: Maunder, WillyGetFinished, Dexter, Red Rover, and Buggy3. Maunder was a no-show, and Red Rover had technical problems. So, things looked good for a medal in TableTop Nav. After arriving just in time, I had an opportunity to test Buggy3. It worked, so I switched it off and set it aside.
First up was Mike “Fergs” Ferguson with “WillyGetFinished.” In 21 years of TABLEBots, this is the best TABLEBot execution I have ever seen. WillyGetFinished features a custom STM32 board with a servo tilting InnoMaker LD-06 LiDAR, an entirely 3D printed frame, and adjustable “Cliff” sensors. The run was flawless. The robot systematically moved about the table and gently placed the Block into the Box, which wasn’t taped to the table, so it fell to the ground, securing the Gold medal score.
TABLEBot Challenge robots: WillyGetFinished, Dexter, and Buggy3.
Next up to make a run was another RoboStar: Marco Walther from Germany, who has won numerous RoboGames medals in TableTop Nav and RoboMagellan. His robot, Dexter — a LEGOBot with a gripper — did short work of Phase III, pushing the Block into the Box to pick up the Silver medal.
Finally, it was my turn. I switched Buggy3 on, and the robot (which does Phase I very well — basically, don’t fall off the table) managed Phase II by pushing the Block off the table’s edge. It then pushed the Block off the table one or two more times. The robot accomplished the full intention of its programming. It acquired the Block and pushed it into the Box mounted at the end of the table (Phase III). At this point, I switched it off and called, claiming Bronze — the happiest medal of all.
The happiest medal of all: Bronze.
Me and my Bronze medal. See how happy it makes you!
The Muscle Wire competition was supposed to happen Friday at 6 pm also. The other competitor besides Jack’s “Robot Snail” apparently was a no-show. After several rounds of taunting “Genius AI,” calling them out for the Muscle Wire Challenge over the PA system, I figured we’d postpone the event until the next day since there were only two entries. Jack was assured of at least getting a Silver medal win.
Saturday was all about RoboMagellen. RoboMagellan is an outdoor event where you’re given a GPS coordinate with an OSHA orange cone placed on it. The robot must traverse around a 100 yard playing field with curbs, trees, people, benches ... you know, urban terrain. We even placed a few dumpsters in the path so the Goal Cone would not be easily visible. There are also “Bonus Cones” along the way where a contestant can decide to go for them and receive a fractional multiplier, which helps decrease the robot’s timed score. However, the robot must touch the Goal Cone for a timed score.
Nathan Lewis with “Kybernetes2” started the thing off with a bang by touching the RoboMagellan Goal Cone in a short 65.7 sec (wait, what?). Yes, that’s right! This is what happens when you incorporate the Bonus Cones. You see, Nathan touched two Bonus Cones: Easy Bonus (x.9) and Trap Bonus (x.5), which effectively reduced his 2.4333 minute run-time to a 65.7 second game run-time. Nathan participated in RoboGames about seven years ago but had never touched the Goal Cone. This was good for the Gold!
Nathan Lewis and his Gold medal RoboMagellan robot, Kybernetes2.
There were eight other RoboMagellen competitors, none of which touched the Goal Cone for a timed score but stopped short (or far) from the Goal Cone for a distance score. As mentioned, along the way, there were three Bonus Cones with fractional multipliers to decrease your timed score. The Easy Bonus Cone takes 10% off your time. The Trap Bonus Cone (hidden behind some Mario-style plumbing pipes) gives you half off your score. Finally, hidden in an enclave where dumpsters are usually kept (we’ve moved them out into the parkway blocking the view of the Goal Cone), we put the Dumpster Cone which is a .1 multiplier! That’s 90% off your timed score! However, you must TOUCH THE GOAL CONE to get a timed score.
Although Nathan’s Kybernetes2 was the only contestant to touch the Goal Cone this year, several came close, including HKustCar1 from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), who took Silver with a 12’ distance from the Goal, and Ralph Hipps of the HomeBrew Robotics Club who took Bronze (the happiest medal of all) with a distance of 17’ from the Goal.
John Erickson and his medal-winning Best of Show robot, Zybot.
I officiated three other events at RoboGames 2023: Line Following, NatCar, and Muscle Wire. In Line Following, the most incredible run was by “Magirus,” built by Juan Martinez of the weRobot Academy in Ecuador. Magirus ran a stunning 3.04 seconds for Gold, followed by another Ecuadorian entry by Juan Revelo (Superluminico), which ran 5.01 seconds. Bronze went to Twitchy, by Bay Path Robotics, USA, after forfeiting the first run because of a motor drive problem (each robot gets three runs). Twitchy ran the course with an 11.75 second run.
NATCar is a super line-following course. It was dominated by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. They took Gold, Silver, and Bronze with HKUSTCar3, HKUSTCar1 (a different robot from RoboMagellan), and HKUSTCar2.
John Erickson (who I stayed with in Hayward) won Bronze in Best of Show with his humanoid robot, “Zybot.” After years of participating in RoboGames, this was his first medal. Nick Donaldson took Gold in Best of Show with his giant hexapod, “Marauder,” and Mark Setrakian, Silver, for his extra creepy robot, “Stalker.”
Best of Show medal ceremony. Left to right: Mark Setrakian, Nick Donaldson, and John Erickson.
As exciting as all the events are, RoboGames is really about people. Robot builders from all over the world gathered at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. Mr. Robotics himself, Dave Calkins, founded “ROBOlympics” which was later renamed RoboGames.
It’s all his fault: EO David Calkins.
Michael Overstreet is renowned for his 3D printed humanoids. Bunny Liaw, famous for her bunny ears was there, as well as Tony Woodward and his marvelous robot-fighting photos and Box Kart.
Martin Mason and his WWE RoboCraziness were in attendance as well as Luan and Lucas from Brazil, who always come back. Zachary Lytle and his Bot Bash Party is a RoboGames tradition. Tetsuji from Japan and his wonderful musical and fortune-telling robots are always a big hit, and Mark Setrakian and his extraordinary works of robot art never fail to please.
Michael Overstreet and Martin Mason making outrageous declarations.
Dan Albert, Chris Mayer, and Michael Overstreet officiated the humanoid competitions. Bob Allen is considered a fixture for everything he does, including Fire Fighting and RoboMagellan and competing. Gary Gin (who seems to be everywhere) and Ray Billings of “Tombstone” fame were there, along with Barbara McMahon, who appears to be wherever robots are fighting. The same goes for Michael Mauldin and Jim Yeh.
The humanoid crew: Dan Albert and Chris Mayer.
Of course, Nick Donaldson was there. He’s considered the Michael Phelps of RoboGames. This year alone, he took home three Gold (including Best of Show), one Silver, and one Bronze trophies this year alone.
Nick Donaldson’s Best of Show giant hexapod, “Marauder,” took Gold.
Then, there’s the timeless Samuel M Coniglio IV and TIKITRON, which I believe is from outer space! And finally, James Arluck, who remembered me from RC car racing back in the early ‘90s. We are the world, the future, and we will settle for nothing less than total world domination!
RoboGames 2023 was a fairy tale event for me. Having moved back home to Tallahassee after 36 years in the San Francisco Bay area and meeting with my robot-building friends only over Zoom every week, it was great to see everyone live and in person! Erickson and me getting those “happy” medals was just icing on the cake. It was a Cinderella story!
So, what about Jack and the Muscle Wire Crawl? I never received the Robot Snail. I had gone through all three boxes that arrived (I would have sworn I had only sent two packages), but there was no Robot Snail. Oh, well. Unfortunately, after telling Jack he was assured a Silver, I had to text back, “Damn Jack, I thought your robot was here.”
The Robot Snail finally arrives ... a day late.
It did finally show up … on Monday. The Snail Mail took out the Robot Snail. Maybe next year, Jack. SV