Ready, Set, Smash: It’s the Battle of the Autonomous Robots

The Middle East is hosting an all-out mechanical brawl. May the best robot win.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

They’ll smash, they’ll bash, and they’ll destroy one another—all in the name of a championship title.

At the “Grand Finale” of Cambridge’s Science Festival in Central Square in April, during the Design Challenge’s Autonomous Fighting Robots event, organizer Paul Kassebaum hopes to see some metal go flying as the machines go head-to-head in a closed arena.

“I’d also expect to see things like hammers coming down to strike the opponent, weapons that will hurt the other robot when they spin around really fast, and then some sort of protruding weapons that maybe will smack the other guy,” said Kassebaum, an employee at MathWorks and an active member of Somerville’s Artisan’s Asylum, both of which are sponsoring the robot melee next month.

This is the second annual battle of the bots at the Middle East, which features eight teams of up to five people each. Teams are picked from a large pool of hopeful developers and receive a special “Golden Ticket” when they sign up online to take part in the autonomous robot challenge. Once the teams are chosen, they are given access to the Artisan’s Asylum, where experts will take them through a weeks-long process of building and programming a robot that has the capability of ripping to shreds anything that comes into its path in the ring.

Kassebaum said teams will get to make use of the “awesome” tools offered by the Asylum, including specialized 3-D printing machines, laser-cutting devices, and other computer-controlled manufacturing technologies. Mentorship on-site is provided pro-bono by Mathworks, Autodesk, and SparkFun to “fully customize their ferocious creations,” according to event details.

“The available tools will help the teams build weapons and armor for their robot—light grade weapons. The robots will be tossing each other, gripping each other, and fighting each other in the arena,” he said, adding that there would be a bullet-proof glass to keep spectators safe from the metal mash-up.

Only the program on board will drive the completely autonomous robots. They will also have sensors attached so they can know when to accelerate, and use infrared capabilities to detect robots nearby.

This year’s fight will be a bit different from the last for the bots. Instead of pitting the machines against each other in a Sumo-style match where they need to push their opponent off the edge of the ring, the robots will instead only be able to advance to the next round by dismantling their contender. “If you are able to flip the opponents, and they can’t right themselves like a beetle, that would count. Also, if it can’t move because the other robot smashed a critical part of the drive-train system, so the wheels aren’t really working, that would also count. Or if the weapon of the other robot is destroyed as well,” said Kassebaum. “They will be relatively easy to destroy.”

The event will also host a raffle this year, where the lucky winner will gain access to the Artisan’s Asylum to take classes and learn how to used advanced tools with the help of the staff.

A day before the robot battle, the general public will be invited to take a quick tour of the Artisan’s Asylum facilities, to watch developers and programmers put the finishing touches on their machines.

Participants that want to wage war must register by April 1.