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Eurobot 2001

The Space Odyssey

Visitors from a faraway galaxy, Science and Technology have discovered a new star around which six planets orbit. This is a great opportunity for them to explore these new worlds. But Science and Technology disagree about how to explore them. Therefore, they make a deal – whoever conquers the most celestial bodies with its flags flying as high possible in 1 minute 30 seconds will have the right to impose its exploration method! The 4th annual contest took place on May 25-27, 2001, in La-Ferté Bernard, France. We were there with Alena.

Among the new participants there was also the Czech Republic, represented by a group of students from the Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. Eurobot has started as a French-only competition, only later going international. The tradition can be still seen in the Frech National Cup that lasts several days. Out of 170 were the best 3 chosen.
The international part was not that massive with “only” 20 teams which allowed a game system consisting of two rounds. During the first round all the qualified teams (the ability to place a single flag on an arbitrary planet without opponent interfering was required) were divided into three groups of six. In a group each team played five matches against the other teams in the group collecting point for flags placed and matches won. At the end of the first round each team had been assigned a rank. The second round was a play-off where the winner continues with the other winners until only one is left.
The behavior of our robot Alena can only be explained by the Murphy's laws. The day we arrived to the La-Ferté nothing had worked. Alena was not even able to qualify because just the look of the judge gave her such an epileptic seizure that the flag got thrown far away. We had found the problem later on. The communication bettween the master AVR chip and the slave chip driving the hand was to blame. But we discovered this only after wasting a whole day while looking for a suitable computer that we could use (no, we did not have our with us) and the overall work place preparation. After a fix and successful demonstration Alena gained her first fans. The interest attracted mainly its simplicity with Palm computer as the main processing computer and the hand design allowing to place flags on the 40cm high sun and at the same time on the lower planets.
We had reached the goal that we had set a long time back home — to succesfully qualify to the contest and represent our country and university in a way that we would not have to feel ashamed. But as we say “with the food the appetite grows” (sorry, I do not know what would be a proper English translation). We felt that we could do even better. Working hard on the robot we fried our AVR programmer (the chip, not the person) and the whole contest seemed to be over even before it started. Luckily the atmosphere of the contest is very friendly and as soon as others discovered that we are in serious trouble we were offered a help. The help resulted in two chips for our programmer free of charge from the parts supplier working in the contest area (cannot remember the name) and two French teams offering to program these chips for us. We were back on the trail!
But we were certainly not the only ones having problems. Probably the most significant example is the famous Boston MIT that brought a very nice robot with a clever design and even better strategy. Too bad that the robot was not able to operate reliably. The team gave up in the middle of the contest. The problems followed also the team from Norway that was using vision as a main sensor. We managed to defeat both teams despite the unfortunate fact that once the flag stick on the and was not therefore placed on the sun. This was caused by the artificial smoke used by the TV staff. All the rubber items were really sticky because of it.
The first round of the contest turned out relatively good for our team. Alena managed to place at least one flag in each of the matches and out of five matches won two. You can see the results here. The last match with the M&M's team ended up in a rough collision with the Frech robot which almost knocked Alene upside down which in turn was cause of the fiasco at the beginning of the play-off.
The second round started with 16 teams under the close watch of the French TV channel M6. Our first opponent was Germany. A moment of thrill, 3, 2, 1… judge's whistle, the starting strings are pulled, the German robots are all over the playing field. There is no sign of life on Alena. Not a single movement. Dead robot. The fury combines with a grief. Outrage. Nobody has a clue as to what has just happened. Perplexed looks in the cameras and “let's get out of here”…
This time the hardware was the cause. The crash during the previous match loosen one of the communication (yes, communication again!) wires bettwen the AVR and the Palm computer. The Palm computer therefore didn't get the message that the starting string was pulled, so nothing happened.
As the La-Ferté Bernard is a beautiful small city I could not resist to post several pictures taken while walking around. If you have found this contest interesting, do not hesitate to contact us.