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Eurobot 2002

The Flying Billards

On a flat playing field, 8 red balls and 4 black balls are randomly placed, complying to a central symmetry. Each robot starts from one end of the playing field and has to put the black balls in the pockets at its own side and the red ones at the opposite side. After 1 minute 30s, the points are counted. The 5th annual contest took place on May 10-12, 2002, in La-Ferté Bernard, France.

In the Eurobot 2002 we were represented by two teams this time — The Sirael Team (from last year) of students from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Charles University in Prague and The Short Circuit team. The second team has formed around Martin Dlouhý (at that time in Ireland). The rest of the original team stayed home and started working on a completly new robot called Barbora. In the mean time has Martin infected his surroundings with his eagerness to compete in the next Eurobot and has built a robot called Clara.

The Sirael Team

The Sirael Team was building a threded vehicle of monstrous characteristics. According to the quote “we are as small as our goals” the team was aiming at nothing smaller than the IUT Ville d'Avray – Paris X, the current champion, defeat!
Two primary prerequisites for the victory were identified. Since the last year's final match didn't last more than 5 seconds, the speed of the robot was certainly one of them. The other one is a strategy that no other team uses. The whole architecture of Barbora conforms to these two rules. The speed is gained by the strong motors (more than 600W each!) and the tracks to transform all the power into a movement. The strategy was closely realated to the speed issue. The goal was to collect as many balls as possible and sort them into the baskets later. The thinking behind this was that the enemy might do the same and we would not have enough balls and would be forced to recycle them from the baskets.
When we have arrived to France Barbora was not quite finished yet. You can see how it looked like on the images. Not only that the software was not properly tested and debuged, but the hardware was not finished as well! Even though we had been working on it like mad the whole week before, it was still not done. All the work that week took place in my dorms room. I have to thank again to my roommates since they have been very understanding (so far ) of the electric drill at 3am and such things.
That week I was sleeping 4 hours/day average. We have decided to make the journey to France mostly overnight so we loose as little time as possible. That has resulted in one completly sleepless night. However that was just a mild start. If my memory serves me right, we arrived to La-Ferté on Thursday and me and Petr have stayed up until the end of qualification on Saturday. Well I am not counting the two hours on Saturday morning under the table .
Despite the monumental engagement of the whole team we have not qualified for the main competition. As you can see even Markéta had decided that just feeding us will not get us there so see started to work on the hardware too. We were so tired I am surprised that we had not made more damage than good. However when we were almost there (10 minutes after 10am Saturday) the bateries went dead. One of the servos was broken and was consuming as much 2A! The robot just went on the field and when picking up the ball (powering up the spiral) the whole thing just rebooted. And the bateries were not replaceable, nor we hade a substitute (they had to be charged while mounted in the robot).

The Short Circuits

The Short Circuits team constructed the robot Clara using completly different assumptions — there is never enough time to finish and debug the robot → if the robot is simplier, there is better chance that it will work as desired. So what is the simpliest and cheapest robot that can be built? Clara! Oh, maybe not. According to what I've heard the Algeria's Blibot should be just as simple, but has won the second place! But let's get the whole story.
The Short Circuits team was getting around much better. They got qualified on Friday already and were debuging and tuning the hardware/software nightmare what most robot always create for their creators. They had their share too. The bad luck was that every time they decided that the robot need a bigger improvement, the organizators came saying that they have to be ready for a match in 20 minutes. On Sunday they even looked them up on a breakfast saying that they have to go compete right away. Then the motherboard got fried and Honza had 15 minutes to replace it. Gee!
Clara almost got to the final play-off. Actually the guys belived it for an almost half an hour. Then team from Finland came saying that they had been left our of the ranking paper. Too bad. But hey – now we all can go watch the finals!

The Contest

The theme of the contest promised a better show than the last year's. Last years all of the better matches were basically decided within a few seconds. The ability to take the balls out of the baskets again should have avoided this allowing the fight to continue until the bell rings. That's for the theory.
The reality was vastly different. The ball manipulation proved to be a real pain. The balls varied in shapes and sizes. Even the surface was variable. The original balls were shiny. The rules said the shine should be taken down with the help of some chemicals. But the friction of the surface was the single biggest limiting factor. The friction of the original balls was pretty high. By taking down the shiny coat the friction was reduced. The friction was further reduced by coating the balls with a chalk dust just before the contest (some teams complained that the balls are too shiny for the camera systems).
The result of the hardware difficulties was that the teams spent a way too much time on the hardware part and a little was left for an intelligent behavior. The quality of the matches was directly proportional to the time spent on the software, meaning that it was not as much fun to was as one would expect. In my opinion the theme was just too difficult for the one year cycle of the Eurobot.
Approaching the last four matches the entertaining quality increased. The Blibot team from Algeria was the big surprise being defeated only by the all-time-champion Ville d'Avray, leaving the other French team Minitech the third place. Minitech and Ville d'Avray competed in the French national cup, the Minitech defeating the Ville d'Avray. However, in the Eurobot these two teams did not compete against each other because the Minitech was eliminated by the Blibot, leaving behind the question if the French champion Minitech would be able to defeat Ville d'Avray again.
So this was the Eurobot 2002. And what about 2003? I guess we will have to win that one since we did not make it now .

To see more pictures you can check the organizator's gallery (including some more pictures of us and our robot).