Penn State Abington
Mobile Robotics Program

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Fire-Fighting Robot Contest & Exhibit

(Based on the Trinity College Fire-fighting Robot Contest)
  Location: Penn State Abington (Abington, PA USA)

Next Contest Date: Saturday, April 13, 2013 (12 pm - 5pm)


Overview Rules & Prizes Sponsors Videos of Robots
Objectives Registration Form Arena Layout Diagram Penn State Robot Page
Times and Location Notes To Participants Who is Registered for 2013 event? Contact Organizers
Directions Multi-Robot Challenge Who was Registered for 2012 event?  

This page last updated: 4-10-2013



Penn State Abington (Abington PA, Philadelphia PA suburb) will be hosting our annual Regional Firefighting Robot Contest and Robot Exhibit on Saturday, April 13, 2013.   Participants from K-12 through college and beyond will be participating and showcasing their innovative and creative robot designs.  Over 40 robots and students from over 15 schools participated last year, and we are expecting increased participation this spring. Spectators of all ages are welcome, and all robot activities are free and open to the general public.  To see the list of all schools and teams who registered  for the Abington 2012 contest, click here.  To see the registration for the Abington April 2013 contest, click here.
The rules of the Abington event are based on the Trinity College Home Fire-Fighting Robot Contest.

Time and Location:

  • Official start time for the Penn State Abington fire-fighting robot contest is 12pm on Saturday, April 13, 2013.
  • Practice session will be scheduled from 9 am to 12pm on Saturday, April 13, 2013.  This time is an optional session for students to practice and calibrate their robots prior to the contest.  This practice session is also open to the public.
  • The location for all events above will be Room 112 Woodland Building at Penn State Abington, in Abington, Pa (Philadelphia, PA USA suburb)
  • The firefighting robot contest is an indoor event and will be held in any weather conditions unless there is a closure of the campus..

Tentative schedule (Saturday, April 13, 2013):

Time Event
(all events are open to the general public)
9am - 12noon  Open practice for all firefighting robot teams
Team Check-in and Registration (Woodland Lobby)
Rm 112 Woodland Bldg
11am - 1:30pm  Free pizza and soda for all participants, spectators, and guests
(no food or drink allowed in auditorium or any classrooms)
Woodland Bldg. Cafe
12pm - 12:30pm  Welcome and Opening Remarks Rm 112 Woodland Bldg
12:30pm - 4:30pm  Firefighting Robot Contest (including Talent Show and Multi-Robot) Rm 112 Woodland Bldg
4:30 - 5pm  Presentation of Awards and Trophies Rm 112 Woodland Bldg

(Note: duration of contest will vary depending on number of robot entries and other issues) 


Contest Objective:
The objective of the fire-fighting robot contest is to design a computer-controlled robot to navigate a  maze (8 ft. by 8 ft.) that consists of 4 rooms. Rooms are surrounded by walls except for a 18" entrance.  A single candle is randomly placed in one of the 4 rooms. The goal is for the mobile robot to explore the maze, locate the candle, and extinguish the candle in the minimum time.  Robots must be within 12" of candle before extinguishing the candle.  The layout and dimensions of the maze and rooms are fully known to all contestants prior to the contest.  For the advanced divisions, the hallways and room may be covered with carpeting.  Bonuses are earned for returning to the start position after extinguishing the candle, and allowing obstacles to be placed in the rooms.  
Participants are permitted to use any combination of building materials and computer technology. All robots must operate autonomously except for the K-5th grade remote control division.  We also offer a Robot Talent Show and a special Multi-Robot challenge.

The rules are based on the Trinity College Home Fire-Fighting Robot Contest which is an international robot competition to be held at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in April. Please visit the Trinity College Robot Competition site by clicking here

Penn State Abington will host a regional fire-fighting robot contest and robot show on Saturday, April 13, 2013 using the same rules as the Trinity College contest (with some modifications and extensions.)  This is the 17th year that Abington has offered a regional firefighting robot contest!!!!  Over 40 robots registered for the 2011 contest.  The purpose of our contest is to have fun while  learning about engineering, computer technologies, robotics, STEM, and artificial intelligence.  We have also expanded the scope of the Abington contest to include remote control division for K-5th grade.

The contest is open to the public as participants and spectators at no charge. There are no age limits for the participants. Although many participants are students sponsored by a school or university, it is not required that the participants be students at all -- hobbyists, artists, hackers, students and adults of all ages and professions are welcome. There is no charge for registration (but on-line registration is required), and there is no charge for attending the event as a spectator (bring the kids!). 

Penn State Abington has been participating in the fire-fighting robot competition for over 10 years and has built over 70 firefighting robots. We have also offered robot contests (Robo-TrailBLazers and Robo-Hoops) in December of each year since 1995 that have been open to students of all ages.  Teams from Philadelphia area colleges, high schools, middle schools, and grade schools, as well as teams from New Jersey, New York, and Maryland have been participating in the Penn State robot contests.


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From PA Turnpike take interchange # 343 (formerly #27), follow Rt. 611 South 3.4 miles to Abington, turn left on Woodland Road, look for Abington Hospital on right and Inn Flight Restaurant on left. Follow Woodland road for 0.5 miles. Campus is on right. Take first entrance on right (past Cloverly Lane) and park. Go through main entrance of Woodland Bldg. (white stone bldg. adjacent to parking lot). Upon entering Woodland bldg., enter first set of doors to your left -- this is room 112W, the auditorium. You could also proceed downstairs and enter auditorium from lobby. You will see us when you get there! (From Phila., take Rt. 611 north, past Rt. 73, and make right onto Woodland Road.)  For more information on directions, click here

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Rules & Prizes

There are several divisions in which to participate in the fire fighting robot contest:
(Participants compete against robots within the same division)

1.- Firefighting Senior Division (standard maze; autonomous robots; college level or beyond; 1st, 2nd, 3rd place trophy awards)

2.- Firefighting High School Division (standard maze; autonomous robots; high school level; 1st, 2nd, 3rd place trophy awards)

3.- Firefighting Junior Division (entry maze; autonomous robots; 8th grade or younger; 1st, 2nd , 3rd place trophy awards)

4.- Firefighting Remote Control Division (entry maze; 5th grade or younger; trophies for successful completion)

5.- Robot Talent Show (any age group; robots will be demonstrated for audience at the contest site; it is not necessary that robot be a firefighting robot; any innovative robot invention is welcome. trophies for all participants; robots may participate in robot talent show and also other divisions of the contest.)

6. Multi-Robot Challenge (optional division; autonomous only; 2 or more robots must use multi-robot communication and coordination to extinguish 2 candles which are randomly located in 2 rooms of the maze (max of one candle per room.). All age groups may participate.  Robots may participate in both the single-robot and multi-robot divisions. See rules below.  Several awards will be presented in this category.

7. Creativity and Innovation Awards (trophies) will be awarded.   All robots in the contest divisions are eligible for the creativity and innovation awards determined by the judges.  It is not necessary for robots to be successful in the firefighting robot contest in order to be eligible for a creativity and innovation award.  It is important that teachers and/or participants notify judges that they want to be considered for a creativity and innovation award.

There are no cash awards.  We want to keep the emphasis on education, learning, discovery and fun, and less on the competitive aspects.

The official rules of the fire-fighting robot contest have been developed and are maintained by Trinity College and the Connecticut Robotics Society. The Trinity rules can be accessed by clicking here

Here is a summary of the basic rules of the Abington Regional Firefighting robot contest:

  • The objective is for the robot to locate and extinguish the candle in the minimum amount of time.

  • Robots may be constructed and programmed using any hardware or software materials and resources.

  • Participants may be of any age or affiliation from K-12, high school, college, or beyond.  (Affiliation with a school or organization is not required.)

  • Robot maximum size is limited to 12.25 inches by 12.25 inches by 12.25 inches. No sensor can be higher than 10 inches from ground.  Robots may not look over the walls in any way.  This max volume also includes any attachments to the robot (balloons, arms, etc) , and the max volume rule is enforced during the entire time the robot is in operation.

  • A single lit candle is placed randomly in one of the 4 rooms of the maze.  The height of the lower portion of the flame is between 6 inches and 8 inches from surface.

  • The robot score is essentially the time (in seconds) required for the robot to locate and extinguish the candle. The robot with the fastest time, and therefore the lowest point score, is declared the winner.  There are bonuses and penalties that apply -- see details below.

  • There are 2 basic versions of the maze: 1) entry maze (used for remote control division and junior division); this entry maze has a painted black surface; 4 rooms;  no carpeting; no mirrors; no wall hangings; 2) standard maze (used for all high school and senior divisions); this maze has 4 rooms; assorted floor carpeting (optional bonus); wall hangings; one or more wall-mounted mirrors). Both mazes (entry and standard)  have the same basic dimensions and room layouts (see diagrams below). Location of carpeting, wall hangings, mirror may change for each run in the standard maze. (There is no staircase at all in the contest arena.)

  • The maze dimensions and layout are known prior to the contest (see diagram). Any dimension may vary by up to an inch of the labeled value.

  • The robot must be fully autonomous. (no radio-control, IR control, etc.) except for special K-5th grade remote control division.

  • No wire (tether) may connect the robot to an external computer (no human operator) and/or external power supply (this is new rule for 2009)..  There is no penalty for a wireless connection (see below), but even with a wireless connection from the robot to a computer, the robot operation must be autonomous.

  • The robot must move to within 12 inches of the candle before the robot extinguishes the candle. A white circle (12 inch radius) of thin poster board is positioned on the maze floor with the candle at the center.

  • The robot is not permitted to "look" over the walls of the maze.

  • The robot is not permitted to climb over the walls of the maze.

  • The robot is permitted to touch the walls at any time during the run (with no penalties).

  • The robot will always start at the fixed home start position in the maze for every run (except for arbitrary start mode option). There is a white circle (12.25" diameter) at the fixed home start position.  The robot must be completely on the start circle, but can be in any orientation (that is, the robot may be facing any direction). The contestants choose the orientation.

  • The candle will be positioned randomly within a room.  The candle will be at least 3 inches from any wall. 

  • The candle will not be positioned at the entrance of the room.  In all cases, the robot will be able to enter the room (12 inches minimum) without making contact with the candle or the white poster board circle surrounding the candle.

  • The robot is not permitted to touch the candle in any way when the candle is lit (otherwise there is a 50 point penalty). There is no penalty for touching the candle after the candle is extinguished.

  • Each robot will be provided 2 opportunities to locate and extinguish the candle.  A robot that successfully extinguishes the candle two times will receive a final score equal to the average of the two scores. Robots that successfully extinguish the candle 2 times will be rated higher than robots with only one successful run, regardless of the run times.  (See below for more details).

  • For a successful completion of the task, it must be clear to the judges that the robot has located and identified the candle.  We recommend that the robot emit a sound and/or momentarily stop motion when the robot finds the candle.

  • There are bonuses for returning to the home position after extinguishing the candle, sound activation, avoiding furniture obstacles,  extinguishing the candle without blowing air, and others (see below).

  • Robots are also invited to participate in a robot talent show in which robots can demonstrate interesting and entertaining behavior independent of the firefighting robot contest rules.

  • The contest will be held in an auditorium setting.  Spectators may be using cameras (with flashes) and video cameras which might emit light or some type of radiation to the arena.  Robots should be robust enough to operate in the presence of flash cameras and video cameras.  Spectators will be encouraged to use camera and video devices at any time during contest.  You should test your robot operation with a camera flash.

  • There is no official qualification, but we are expecting all robots can successfully move from the start position to a position completely inside any one of the four rooms (as chosen by robot team).  All major development and testing should be done prior to the contest.

Here is  a summary of the optional bonuses and penalties (these numeric factors are multiplied by the time taken to extinguish the candle; more than one option/penalty can apply).  These are the only bonuses supported at the Abington Regional contest.

  • Sound Activation (robot starts in response to a 3KHz - 4KHz  tone; not clapping) ---------------- 20% reduction (factor = 0.80)
  • Return Trip (robot returns to home position after extinguishing candle) ----------------------------- 20% reduction (factor = 0.80)
  • Furniture (a cylinder obstacle is placed in each of the 4 rooms) -------------------------------------- 25% reduction  (factor = 0.75)
  • Extinguisher Mode --- non-air (examples: inert gas, sponge, etc)-------------------------------------- 25% reduction (factor = 0.75)
  • Arbitrary Start (robot is placed in random start position in random room without candle) --------- 20% reduction (factor = 0.80)
  • Randomly located carpets---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 30% reduction (factor = 0.70)   Note: new option for 2013 regional contest

There is also a room factor that is applied to your overall time from start to extinguishing the candle. (This only applies to robots that operate in the 4-room mode)

  • Candle found in first room explored -------- 1.0 factor
  • Candle found in second room explored ----- 0.85 factor
  • Candle found in third room explored -------- 0.50 factor
  • Candle found in fourth room explored ------- 0.35 factor

The Penn State Abington contest rules deviate from the official Trinity College rules in the following manner:

  • Walls of the maze at Penn State Abington will be 10 inches high (as opposed to 10 - 13 inches for the official Trinity contest). The reason for this is to increase visibility of the robots by the spectators. The robots participating in the PSU Abington contest can be a maximum of 12.25 inches (same as Trinity), but the robots may not "look" over the 10 inch walls. This will be enforced by visual inspection of sensor position, sequence of robot motion through maze, etc. This max volume also includes any attachments to the robot (balloons, arms, etc) , and the max volume rule is enforced during the entire time the robot is in operation..

  • The maze walls are 3/4 inch thick and are placed on the edge of the 8ft. by 8ft. arena.  This reduces the inside dimensions of the maze area by 3/4 inch around the entire perimeter.

  • There will be *no* "ramp or non-dead-reckoning or "uneven floor" option available for the Penn State Abington fire-fighting contest.

  • There will be a no "qualification" process required in the Penn State Abington fire-fighting contest, but we are expecting all robots be minimally able to demonstrate, prior to the contest start (between 9am and 12noon),  that the robot can successfully navigate from the start position to any one of the 4 rooms (room is picked by the robot team).  A robot which does not reliably extinguish the candle will still be eligible to participate in the contest and be eligible for technical and creativity awards.

  • There will be *no* Expert Division or Walking Robot Division at the Penn State Abington contest.

  • Participants using "sound activation" will be required to use their own sound generator (however, the generator will be activated/operated by the judges.)

  • There will be a "Single Room" mode at the Penn State Abington contest. A participant may elect to have the candle placed randomly within any one room specified by the contestant. Any one of the 4 rooms may be selected. The position of the candle may not be specified, only the room.  In this mode, a penalty of 3 minutes (180 seconds/points) will be added to the raw score. This mode is available to the junior, high school, and senior divisions. The single room mode is not available at the Trinity College contest - Abington regional contest only.

  • There will be *no* entry-level high school division at the Abington contest.  The "single room mode" described above is appropriate for entry level participants.  All high school robots (whether entry level or not) will be required to use the standard maze, which contains carpeting (optional bonus), wall hangings, etc.  This division has also been removed form the official Trinity College contest.

  • There will be *no* penalty for touching the walls of the maze in any way. However, robots may not damage, mark, or scratch wall in any way.  There is a small time penalty for wall-following at the Trinity Fire-fighting robot contest -- check official rules -- but not at the Abington contest.

  • Each robot will be provided 2 opportunities to extinguish a candle within a maze. (3 trials will be allowed based on the time remaining and will be decision of the judges.) A robot that manages to extinguish a candle in only 1 of the 2 tries (in any mode) will be eligible for recognition, but will ranked lower in standing than every robot that was able to extinguish the candle 2 or more times (in any mode), regardless of the score.  This ruling favors robots that are reliable.  Reliability is an important characteristic for a robot that will be responsible to extinguishing a fire in a home or factory.  The final score for a robot that successfully extinguishes the candle 2 times will be the average of the two time scores.

  • Total run time for the robot will be limited to 3 minutes.  Additionally, the total time for the return trip will be limited to 3 minutes.

  • Carpeting in the maze will be an optional bonus for the high school and senior division.

  • Any robot that violates the "spirit" of the contest will be disqualified.

  • There is no distinction made between robot kits and unique robots at the Abington contest. We expect that any robot "kit" has been modified sufficiently in hardware and/or software.

  • There is no "variable door" location mode in the Abington contest.

  • The Penn State Abington fire-fighting robot contest will be limited to a total of 45 robot entries.  Based on time of registration -- register now! If you are at least 50% sure you will be able to participate, then register now.

  • Multi-Robot Challenge.  There is a special, optional  "multi-robot" challenge in 2013 for the Abington contest.  Two or more robots will be challenged to extinguish 2 candles (each candle in a separate room; room locations and candle positions are random) and there must be some demonstration of robot communication and coordination.  The robots must clearly indicate when both candles have been extinguished -- each robot in the team must indicate an "All Clear" message (either audible or displayed on a screen, or equivalent).  Robots in the multi-robot challenge may also participate in the other division in the contest.  There will be separate awards for the multi-robot challenge.  Each team in the multi-robot division will be asked to briefly describe the technical details of the solution to the judges and may be asked to disclose listings of software for review.  The scoring in the multi-robot challenge will consist of 2 parts.  One part (total of 10 points)  will be based on the total time to extinguish both candles, and another part (10 points) will be based on the technical approach and innovations used for the multi-robot coordination and communication. There will no separate divisions or bonuses for the multi-robot challenge. 

    The starting area  for the multi-robot team will be in an expanded start area
    (as opposed to a 12" by 12" area for the standard, single robot contest).  All robots in the team must fit within the mullti-robot (MR) expanded start area defined in an "L" shape around the start circle (see maze diagram below). Max height of each robot is 12.25 inches and robots may be in any orientation initially (decided by contestants). The expanded MR start area consists of the 18'' by 18" square area with the start circle at the center, plus an additional 18" by 18" (width of hallway) area extension down each of the 2 hallways extending from the start circle area (see maze diagram below).  This extended area does not intersect any walls. Max size for any individual robot in a team is 12.25" by 12.25" by 12.25".  Robots may be stacked vertically, but total height cannot exceed 12.25" and no sensor can exceed 10" in height.  Only one robot in the team will be started manually -- the other robots must start based on communication with this single, manually-started robot.  There is no limit to the number of robots in the team.  All other rules in the contest apply.  There wil be no carpets in the maze for the multi-robot option.  There is no arbitrary start mode, no room factors for the multi-robots. No bonuses will be applied.  See contest coordinator for more details and any updates.  There is no specification on the tasks to be performed by each robot, but some robot coordination and communication must be demonstrated.  Any type of wireless technology can be used for the multi-robot communication (IR, radio, WiFi,  Bluetooth, etc).   Here is an example of some XBee radio communication using RobotC software with examples, labs and videos.  Again, you do not have to use this technology, but it might serve as a useful starting point,  Be creative.

  • Robot Talent Show Division  In this mode, robot creations that are not specifically designed for the competition, but are really cool, entertaining, and/or useful can be demonstrated.  Please contact the organizers if you would like to bring a robot for show.  Ideally, a robot in this division would operate in the fire-fighting maze, but would not be expected to achieve any of the tasks expected of a traditional fire-fighting robot (that is, you can break any existing rules and invent your own rules.) These robots will not be in competition with the fire-fighting robots. This event is non-competitive in nature.  Invent your own version of  "Stupid Robot Tricks!"  A robot in this exhibition event is also permitted to participate in the other competitions, if desired.  Your innovation might inspire future changes in the fire-fighting contest.  Consider areas such as a team robot event, search and rescue, robot pet demonstrations, aerial robots, dancing robots, etc.  Be inventive. 

  • K-5th Remote Control Robot Division.   In this division, students in K through 5th grade are permitted to use remote control to move the robot through the maze -- no programming is required. It is possible to use Lego Mindstorm RCX/NXT, VEX, etc.  (or equivalent technology) robots in the firefighting contest, using any type of remote control devices.  A candle will be located randomly in one of the 4 rooms of the maze.  This division is non-competitive and will not be timed. Each student that successfully completes the task of extinguishing the candle will be eligible for a prize. Students in this division will be given a maximum of 2 trials with a maximum time of 3 minutes per trial.  A student is also permitted to activate stored programs on the robot. It is expected that the students played a major role in designing the mechanical aspects of the robots. (It is also expected that the students received some help from teachers and/or parents)  Any robot kit may be used for this event.  A parent, teacher or coach may accompany the student or student team for this event.

  • Participants will receive trophies and certificates based on the performance of their robots. Prizes will be awarded as deemed appropriate by the judges.  Other awards or prizes will be announced the day of the competition.

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Registration Form (registration is open on January 15, 2013)

All participants must register their robot.  Please submit one registration form per robot.  The registration process can be accomplished via the web form below. Fill out the form, then click on the "submit" button. There is *no* charge for registration. 

Registration will be limited to a total of 50 robots.  The deadline for registration is April 1, 2013.  Registration will be closed when the total number of robots reaches 50 or the final date for registration is reached -- whichever comes first. Please register early -- early registration helps us promote the event, solicit funding, and plan food requirements, etc.  If you think there is at least a 50% chance you will participate, then register immediately.  (If you miss the deadline, please contact organizers to see if there is a spot available - but no guarantees.)  If you are registered, and for some reasons you are unable to attend, please email organizers.

You may change the name of the robot during check-in/registration on the day of the contest.  All robot teams must check-in and receive a scoring sheet on the day of the contest in the Woodland Building lobby prior to competing in the contest.  Also, decisions to enter robot talent show and multi-robot options can be modified at check-in time.

Please notify contest organizers (by email) if you are registered and determine later that you are unable to attend.

1. Robot Name*:      
2. Contact Name*:   

3. Is the above contact name a member of the team*? yes  no 
   If not a member, what is the role/position of contact name? 
   Note: contact person may be a student, teacher, organizer, etc.  All email about contest will be sent to this email address.
4. Contact Email*:   

5. Is this robot sponsored by a school/organization or sponsored by self (independent)?
school/organization  self (independent)

If sponsored by a school/organization, please indicate name of school/organization (otherwise leave blank):
School/Organization name:
   (include city and state if sponsored or if self/independent)

6. How many total members are on your team*? 

7. List all team member names*:
     Include one name per line; include grade level (if appropriate), and city, state for each name:

8. Select a Division*:

Senior (college and beyond; standard maze) 

High School Division (standard maze)

Junior (K-8) autonomous (entry maze)    

Junior (K-5) remote control (entry maze)

9.  Robot Talent Show. 
            Check here if you will be participating in the Robot Talent Show

10. Multi-robot Challenge. 
            Check here if you will be participating in the Multi-Robot Challenge

11. Any Comments:

* indicates required fields

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Arena Layout Diagrams (reference: Trinity College Fire Fighting Contest website; contest maze layout is same as the  maze layout as shown below)

Shaded areas shown above in the standard maze shows an example of carpeted areas.  Carpeted areas will not be limited to those shown in the example.  Carpeted areas may be positioned in any hallway or room, and may be of any size.  Shag carpets will not be allowed.

Note: There is no "staircase" in the any of the arenas.


Multi-robot Start area (defined in yellow) for Penn State Abington campus Multi-robot option

Note: Actual maze has painted black floor, and start circle is solid white)

Multi-robot start area

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        Many thanks  to the sponsors of the Abington Fire-fighting robot regional contest:

  •     Philadelpia Chapter of IEEE (Philadelphi, PA)

  •     Penn State Abington College

  •     Penn State Abington IEEE Student Chapter

            If your organization would like to become a sponsor of this event, please contact organizers!!!

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Notes To Participants

  • Robot participants should bring their own laptop/notebook computer. Workspace will be provided. No onsite computers will be available to non-PSU students.  No public internet is available on campus!!!!!
  • We will have a single maze available so that participants will have time to calibrate sensors and such, but the practice session is not suitable for major development work. Be prepared to work quickly and efficiently. All participants will be sharing the maze in some equitable manner.
  • There is no free Internet or wireless Internet available at the robot contest to non-Penn State students.  However, there is a campus-wide ATT wifi network that requires payment. This ATT wifi service is not maintained by Penn State Abington. Payment for the ATT Wifi is made over internet with credit card or other payment methods allowed.
  • Robot participants should bring their own tools (soldering irons, glue guns, duct tape, batteries, power strips, etc.)
  • Robot participants should bring an extension cord to run any of the above equipment.
  • We are planning to provide free pizza and soft drinks to participants and guests from 11:30 am to 1pm.  Other snacks or meals are the responsibility of the participants.   Vending machines provide soda, candy, snacks only.  Please join us for pizza. You are free to bring your own food and drink supplies. There are several fast-food restaurants within a mile or two of the campus.  NO FOOD OR DRINKS ARE PERMITTED IN THE WOODLAND BUILDING LABS OR AUDITORIUM.
  • Dress is very casual.
  • Practice will be held from 9am to 12pm in Room 112 Woodland Building on same day as contest only. 
  • Participants will be provided suitable areas to setup and work on robots.

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Contact Organizers:

Direct all inquiries to:

Email: (email communication is preferred)

Bob Avanzato
Penn State Abington
Rydal Building
1600 Woodland Road
Abington, PA 19001



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Questions and Answers:

1. How much help can students accept from adults, teachers, mentors, etc.? 

Students should play a significant role in the design and development of their robots.  Students should be encouraged to consult parents, teachers, engineers, etc., for help, guidance, suggestions, and assistance, but the majority of the design and implementation should be done by the students.  For example, if an adult (e.g. parent) writes the software program for a robot for a high school or middle school student, then the robot should be entered into the senior division.  (We are using the guidelines described by the Trinity College Fire Fighting Robot contest.)  Forward any questions to the contest coordinator.

2. What is the best way to prepare for this contest if you are new to robotics?

One of the best ways to get started in robotics and prepare for this robot contest (and others) is to purchase a Lego NXT Mindstorms Robotics kit.  These robot kits can be purchased from local toy stores and on-line vendors such as or Lego Pitsco ( for approximately $200 to $300.  These kits include Lego building materials, motors, wheels, gears, light sensors, bump sensors, and software.  There are many resources including building and programming instructions and examples on the web.  Lego Mindstorms robot kits have been used successfully in K-8, high school, and college courses.  There exist many programming languages to support the Lego Mindstorms robot kits including RCX /NXT code (visual), ROBOLAB (visual), Not Quite C (freeware), RobotC, Java, Visual Basic, and others.  There are other popular robot controllers such as VEX,  Basic Stamp, BasicX, HandyBoard, Arduino, PIC, and many others.  Contact Penn State organizers to get more information.

3. What has changed for the Abington 2013 regional firefighting contest compared to previous contests?

There is a special, optional  "multi-robot" challenge in 2013 (this was first offered in 2012, and was a great success).  Two or more robots in a team will be challenged to extinguish 2 candles (each candle in a separate room) and there must be some demonstration of robot communication and coordination.  The robots must clearly indicate when both candles have been extinguished.  See above rules for details.  Robots in the multi-robot challenge may also participate in the other division in the contest.  There will be separate awards for the multi-robot challenge. Any type of technology can be used for the multi-robot communication (IR, radio, WiFi,  Bluetooth, etc),  Here is an example of some XBee radio communication using RobotC software with examples, labs and videos.  Again, you do not have to use this technology, but it might serve as a useful starting point,  Be creative.

Carpeting in the maze will be an optional bonus for the high school and senior division. (In past years, presence of the carpeting in the maze was required for all high school and senior teams.)

We have made a few clarifications on the rules which will be enforced in 2012 and will be valid for 2013:
1) If a robot knocks over a candle which physically results in the candle being extinguished, then this will *not* be considered a successful completion of the task.  It must be clear to the judges that the extinguishing mechanism of the robot was primarily responsible for extinguishing the candle.

2) The "Sound" start should be activated by the appropriate tone, not by an arbitrary loud sound such as clapping.  The motivation behind this sound activation bonus is a robot which responds to a fire alarm, not an arbitrary loud sound.  Participants who desire the bonus for the sound activation must demonstrate that the robot responds to the appropriate tone but not to other sounds such as a clap.  All participants are required to bring their own device to generate the tone.  It is permissible to have robots start by responding to loud noises (such as a clap), but this will not result in a sound activation bonus.

For the 2013 contest, we have a "voluntary" qualification requirement -- all robots should have minimal functionality to enter the contest. That is, all robots should minimally be able to enter one room of the maze.

There is no "staircase" option in the maze for the contest (for any division).  We are also offering the arbitrary start position option in the Abington contest (robot will be placed in random location in random orientation in one of the rooms which does not have candle)  Additionally, there are no "tethered" robots allowed in the Abington current contest (as is also the case at the Trinity College contest.)  A wireless connection (IR, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc) between robot and external computer is allowed.

4. What were some of the major challenges faced by the contestants in previous contests?

For one, a key challenge for most participants was the effect of the carpeting on the robots (high school and senior division). NOTE: Carpeting is an optional bonus in the 2013 regional contest. Carpets can be located anywhere on the floor of the maze and some robots were unable to move or turn successfully on carpets. This is a challenging part of the contest, and it created problems for robots which use shaft encoders and are low torque. Please practice all turns with and without carpets prior to arriving at the contest. Also, some robots were very sensitive to the height of the flame of the candle. The rules specify the bottom of the flame will be between 6 inches and 8 inches, but there is no way of knowing what the height will be when you make the run. You need to practice with flames at different heights in the 6 to 8 inch range.

Also, some teams expected to do a good deal of development and programming work the morning of the contest.  This is very unrealistic and can lead to frustration. Robots should be fully operational and tested prior to the event, and students should expect there will be a small amount of time to practice in the maze to calibrate and adjust sensors. Managing a complex project and scheduling practice and test time is an important element in the experience.  Keep the robots simple and robust.

5. Will the location of the carpets in the standard maze change every time a robot is run?

Yes, for participants using the standard maze (which is all high school, college, and beyond), the carpets will be placed randomly in the maze for each run.  This does not apply to the junior division or the remote control division (for which there is no carpet).

6. Is it permitted to place a continuously powered-on fan on the robot in which the fan is turned on from the time the robot leaves the start position (assuming that when the robot approaches the candle, the fan will extinguish the candle)?

No, it is permitted to use a fan (propeller attached to a motor) to extinguish the candle, but the fan may not be powered (turned-on) prior to the robot moving to within 12 inches of the candle.  In the past, there have been robots which start with a fan permanently powered-on while the robot moves through the maze. The problem with this approach is that it is difficult to prove that the candle flame is not affected by the fan before the robot moves to within 12 inches to the candle.  This approach also is not consistent with the theme of the event in which it should be clear to observers that the robot did indeed find the candle, and did not extinguish the candle by accident.  Maintaining a continuously powered fan on a robot is equivalent to a fire truck which begins to spray water into the air as it leaves the fire station and then hopes to extinguish the fire as the fire truck moves into the vicinity of a real fire -- not a good design.

7. Is it permitted to us a wet sponge to extinguish the candle?

Yes, however the sponge should make contact with the flame at initial contact.  Also, it is important to remember that any arms or other appendages (balloons, etc) are considered part of the robot, and the robot (including all attachments) must remain in the maximum volume specified by rules (12.25 inches on a side). This is enforced the entire time the robot is in operation.  As mentioned above, if the sponge physically knocks over the candle and the candle is extinguished due to the fall or physical displacement of the candle, then this would not be considered a successful completion of the task.

8. Is it permitted to use an inflated balloon to extinguish the candle?

Yes, but it is important to remember that any arms or other appendages (including balloons) are considered part of the robot, and the robot (along with any attachments such as a balloon) must remain in the maximum volume specified by rules (12.25 inches on a side).  This is enforced the entire time the robot is in operation.  It is also recommended that the robot clearly indicate that the candle has been detected -- this can be indicated by change in motion or an audible sound.  It is in violation of the rules to have a robot move around randomly in the maze with a balloon in the hopes of a random encounter with a candle.  Some level of candle/flame detection is required.

9. What is an "autonomous" robot?

An autonomous robot is a robot which is computer controlled and operates without any human intervention.  An autonomous robot generally has an onboard computer which executes the software to interpret data from sensors, makes decisions,  and controls the motors and other mechanisms.  Autonomous robots must have sensors to gather information about the outside world such as light intensity, obstacles, and temperature.   By contrast, a remote-controlled robot, or tele-operated robot, is a robot which is controlled by a human operator.  Remote control robots generally do not have sensors because the human operator is gathering information and the human is commanding the robot to move and behave.  Autonomous robots are generally considered more complex than remote-controlled robots because autonomous robots do not rely on human intelligence to make decisions, and these autonomous robots must operate independently and intelligently.  In the real world there are some applications which are best served by remote-controlled robots and some applications that are best served by autonomous robots.  The firefighting robot contest requires robots to be autonomous for the junior, high school, and senior levels.  When you see battle robots fighting each other on TV, these battle bots are remote-controlled robots, not autonomous robots.
    One of the advantages of autonomous robots in an educational setting is that students can learn about the mechanics of a robot and also learn about programming languages, sensors, and software design.


Copyright (c) 1995-2013 R. Avanzato