Aerial Assist

I spent part of Friday and all of Saturday refereeing a robotics competition. It was amazing!

The game is called Aerial Assist, and it’s sponsored by the First Robotics Competition – an organisation that organises robotics education and games for kids and uni students.

Each team consisted of four players and a rather sizeable robot. Teams rotated trough different combinations of red vs blue, with three teams aside. The fact that your opponent in one round may be your team mate in a later match helped to keep things sporting. During game play, the two teams fought for control of one of two balls on the field, and we’re awarded points for scoring in a high or low net, passing between robots, and pitching the ball over a crossbeam mid field. You could also be awarded points if the other team commits a foul – most of which were safety related.

There’s a good video explaining the match rules here. Or, a video of a real match.

I know a lot of folks who would have a great deal of fun at these things. The kids involved work closely with mentors who teach them mostly about construction (wiring, welding, metal work, mechanics, drive trains, etc) and a little about programming. In addition to the physical robot, you also have to wire up control systems so that you can drive your robot using a joystick or similar. Additionally each round begins with an automated component during which the robots are given ten seconds to try and score a goal on their own. Bonus points are awarded if you score I a net that is specially marked at the beginning if the round, so it pays to teach your robot to “see” which is the correct net.

Aside from all the engineering work, which happens pre match, there’s also the strategy in the competition, and some skill in driving your creation. As the day went on you could see strategies emerging, similar to a simple soccer match. Teams would choose one robot to run defence and block opponent goals, another to score (usually a robot who could score in the top net for more points) and a “centre” to run the ball between your defence and offence, which helps to rack up assists.

There was something for just about everyone, and pretty good stadium seating for spectators who cheered or danced to keep things lively during the day.

I did check to see if this exists in Canada – most of the folks I know who would be keen live in BC or the east coast. There are some teams, but not in these places. It does t take long to do well, this year a rookie team made it to the semifinals, and another finished in the winners group of three. I see that Alberta got involved last year, and they already have a load of teams, so it could happen. It just needs some interested coaches and mentors.

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