Penn State Abington
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Penn State Abington

Mini Grand Challenge

"Suburban Challenge"

There will be no Mini Grand Challenge Contest scheduled

for spring 2012.  We are redesigning the contest and hopefully

we can offer an enhanced challenge in the near future

We appreciate all of the past participants and supporters of this contest

Autonomous Outdoor Ground Robot Contest
 and Robot Exhibit

Autonomous Outdoor Robot Challenge & Robot Exhibit

Last Contest Date: Saturday, April 16, 2011 (10 am)

Location: Penn State Abington, Abington, PA. USA
Version 1.0
Copyright (c) 2005-2011 R. Avanzato




Objectives and Motivation:
The Penn State Abington Mini Grand Challenge outdoor robot contest challenges mobile, ground robots to autonomously navigate paths throughout the suburban campus of Penn State Abington College while avoiding obstacles and tackling off-road detours.  Robots must carry a 1-gallon container of water, and each robot must attempt to "entertain" spectators.  The objective of this contest is to promote advances in engineering design, computer technologies, artificial intelligence, and robotics education.  This contest was partly inspired by the DARPA Grand Challenge robot initiative to spark innovation in intelligent robot vehicles.  Unlike the DARPA challenge, however, the Penn State Abington Mini Grand Challenge will allow for low cost (yet highly sophisticated) robots to compete, and requires spectator interaction.

This competition is open to participants of all ages (any K-12 or college, or professional). One of the unique features of our competition is that we are providing information on how to construct a low-cost robot platform to be (optionally) used in this contest -- the software, sensors, and interface is all left to you.  The availability of a low-cost robot platform will allow for a wider range of participants and will also allow participants more time to concentrate on intelligent software, sensors, computer vision, navigation systems, and artificial intelligence.  Participants may use any hardware and software technologies in the contest.

    This robot contest is also dedicated to educating the public and local community in the areas of engineering, computer software technologies, robotics, and to stimulate interest in these technical fields.  As such, spectators of all ages are welcome and encouraged to observe the Mini Grand Challenge robot event.  Robots will be required to interact with and entertain the spectators during the contest.  Robots will be rewarded for exhibiting interesting behaviors such as joke telling, song playing, voice announcements, in addition to navigation.  Remember, these robots are computer-controlled and completely autonomous -- not remote controlled. This event is the first of its kind -- so anything can happen.  The first Penn State Abington MGC event was offered in 2005 and participation has been growing.  ( Only one robot to date has successfully completed the entire course.)

See videos of the 2010 Penn State Abington Mini Grand Challenge robot:



Penn State Abington "Powerwheels" robot


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Mini Grand Challenge Contest/Exhibit Time and Location

A Mini Grand Challenge robot contest and demonstration is scheduled for Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the Penn State Abington College in Abington PA (USA). Practice, orientation, and on-site registration  time will be held from 9am to 12noon (all robots must pre-register using the registration form on this webpage; registration is free).  Robots may also be demonstrated and on exhibit in the outdoor areas or the Woodland lobby area. The contest and exhibit area are open to the public as spectators. There will be no charge for the spectators or participants. Dress is casual. Free parking in Woodland Building parking lot will be available. All ages are welcome. 

Tentative schedule (Sat.,April 16, 2011):
8am - 10am  ---  Mini Grand Challenge setup, practice, registration (Woodland Bldg. lobby and outdoor areas)
10am - 12noon --- Mini Grand Challenge contest (outdoors behind Woodland Bldg)
12 - 1pm - Demonstrations and Award Ceremony  (Woodland Bldg Lobby, 112 Woodland Auditorium)
11am - 1:00pm --- Free pizza and soda for all participants, spectators, and guests (Lares Building Cafeteria)

Note: there will also be an indoor Firefighting Mobile Robot contest (12:30-4pm) being held at the campus on the same day as the Mini Grand Challenge.  Please consider exhibiting your robot to interested students and teachers at the events.

Outdoor MGC Contest Rain Date: Sunday April 17, 2011  (8 - 11am)  Check with organizers to verify any rain date decisions

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


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Robot Specifications:

  1. A robot must be electrically powered.  Any type or configuration of commercially-available batteries is permitted.  No combustion, gasoline-powered, or liquid-fueled devices of any kind will be permitted.  No combustible or flammable materials of any kind are allowed.

  2. The robot may be constructed of any materials (unless in conflict with rule #1).  Robot platforms may be home built, or purchased commercially.  We have an example of a low-cost robot platform based on the PowerWheels(tm) battery-powered car.  This platform (or equivalent) is recommended, but is not necessary that you use this design.  Any computer technology may employed to control the robot.

  3. Robots should operate in the 1 to 5 mph speed range.  Robots exceeding 5mph will be penalized and possibly eliminated and removed from the contest.  There is no speed advantage in this contest.  A robot completing the course at 2 mph will receive the same performance points as a robot that completes the same course at 5mph.

  4. Robots must transport  1-gallon container of water (payload) throughout the course. The water payload may be distributed over multiple containers -- as long as the total combined volume of water is 1 gallon.

  5. Robots must possess a clearly recognizable, labeled manual emergency stop button or toggle switch which directly cuts power to all drive motors until a reset action is performed.  There is no requirement for a wireless emergency stop feature (primarily because the robots are of low speed).

  6. The robot vehicle must be able to be physically lifted and carried by two, average-sized humans. We expect robots in the 25 - 75 lb range. The weight requirement allows for impaired robots to be physically removed from the course.

  7. The maximum physical size of the robot (including any sensors, etc.)  is a volume of dimensions 6 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet.  There is no minimum size.   T No standard-sized cars or trucks are permitted on the campus paths. 

  8. There may be no communication (i.e. no RF, WiFi, Bluetooth, cellular, IR, audio, visual markers, beacons, cables, etc.) between the robot and any external devices or humans during the contest run.  Communication with and control of the robot, prior to and following the contest, is allowed, and may be desirable to move the robot to and from the contest course area to the parking lot, for example.  Reception of publicly-available global positioning satellite (GPS) signals is allowed. No data on the reliability of GPS reception will be made available.  WAAS correction availability is also unknown. Some paths could be adjacent to multi-story buildings or other obstacles which could affect and limit GPS reception.

  9. It is permissible for components onboard the robot to communicate internally via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, IR, etc, but please notify judges if this communication is present.

  10. A robot entry will consist of a single entity -- teams or swarms of robots are not permitted in this challenge at any time.

  11. Robots should be characterized as ground robots, and achieve locomotion via contact with the ground surface. Aerial robot are not permitted.

Robot Navigation Challenge:

  1. The path defined for the robot will consist of 2 major parts:

    Part 1
    of the journey will take place on a paved (asphalt) path (approximately 7-8 feet in width). The start position of the robot will be on the paved path.  There will be 5 waypoints (checkpoints numbered WP #1, #2, #3, #4, #5) at specified locations along the paved path. Ideally, the robot should not leave the paved path at any time during Part 1.   The robot will be penalized, but not disqualified, for leaving the paved path at any time during Part 1.  The robot must be completely positioned on the path at the waypoint locations to receive points.  During the Part 1 phase of the journey, the robot should stop (between 2ft and 6ft) of any obstacle (e.g. human or another robot) that is present in front of the robot on the paved path. The robot should not attempt to swerve around the obstacle in Part 1.   Once the obstacle is removed, the robot should resume forward motion.  Orange cones (12-18 inches high) will be used to block inaccessible path routes where there are path intersections and forks in the path (see diagram below).  During Part #1, the robot should follow the curvature of the paved path between waypoints, which will not necessarily be the straight line between successive waypoints.  Once the robot has reached waypoint #5 on the paved path, then Part 1 of the contest is completed. The robot need not stop at any waypoint during part 1 (except for an obstacle).

    Part 2
    of the journey will require the robot to move completely off of the paved path (after reaching waypoint WP#5) and travel across an unpaved, grass and dirt covered field to the final goal waypoint (waypoint WP #6).  The robot should remain within a 30-foot wide, unmarked corridor when traveling from waypoint #5 to waypoint #6.  This off-road field may contain stationary obstacles such as trees, boulders, large trash cans, and sheep (okay, there won't be any sheep).  These stationary objects will be at least 10 feet apart. There will be no obstacles within 25 feet of the final waypoint. It is possible that the robot will be required to cross over a paved path on route to waypoint #6.  During Part 2, the robot should avoid (move around) any obstacles on its way from WP#5 to WP#6.  That is, during Part 2, a robot should not stop and wait for the obstacle to be removed as in Part#1 of the contest.  Basically, obstacles encountered between waypoints #5 and #6 should be considered stationary and immovable. When the robot reaches waypoint #6, then the robot come to a complete stop.  The robot should stop within 30 feet of waypoint #6.
        There will be a set of orange cones blocking the paved path at waypoint #5 (see diagram below), thereby forcing the robot to move off-road to waypoint #6.  There will be no marker of any kind at waypoint #6 (final goal) for the robot to detect.  Any markers present at waypoint #6 (final goal) will be for the sole use of judges and spectators.



  2. The total distance of the prescribed course (both paved path and off-road) for the robot will be approximately 0.5 miles in length or less.

  3. There will be no markers, lines, beacons, or other indicators or markers along the paved or unpaved paths (except for use by judges).

  4. Orange cones blocking inaccessible paved-path segments will be spaced approximately 2 to 3 feet apart.  The cones will be 12-18 inches in height.

  5. The paved path course may contain several steep gradients (see campus pictures below).  Any course path will be passable by a "Power Wheels (tm)" type of robot.

  6. The 6 waypoint coordinates (longitude, latitude) will be provided (emailed) to the participants prior to the contest.  If a robot moves to within 20 feet of the waypoint, then the robot will be awarded points for that waypoint.  Robots should be completely on the paved path for waypoints #1 to #5.  There will be no additional GPS coordinate data provided beyond the 6 waypoint coordinates.

  7. The off-road corridor area between Waypoint #5 and Waypoint #6 (final goal) will be passable by a small "Power Wheels (tm)" type of robot as described in this contest page.  There will be no impending cliffs or bodies of water along this 30 foot wide corridor. There will be no external markers to designate the boundaries of the 30-foot corridor that may be used by the robot.  Any markers will be for judging and spectator use only.

  8. In Part 1, robot should be following the specified curved paved path between the waypoints, not necessarily the straight line segment between the waypoints.  The waypoint (checkpoints) may be marked with flags (or other markers) for use by the judges and spectators.  The robot should not attempt to identify or localize these waypoint markers.  Waypoint #5 will be clearly identified by the orange cones blocking the path.  In Part 2, the robot should follow the straight line (while avoiding obstacles) across the field between waypoint #5 and waypoint #6 (final goal).  The robot should stop at waypoint #6 (within 30 feet).

  9. Participants and robots will be permitted access to any 25% (maximum) portion of the campus contest pathway prior to the contest.  Participants are not permitted to operate or "walk" the robot, or collect data (GPS, video, etc.) through the specified contest route beyond the 25% portion permitted. 

  10. If a robot remains stationary for a duration of 60 seconds and is not waiting for a paved-path obstacle to be removed, then the judges will declare the robot "brain dead", and order that the robot be physically removed from the course.  This action will signify the end of the match for this robot.  A robot is permitted to stop (and think) at any time, but the robot should not stop for more than 60 seconds.  A robot should move at an average velocity of 1 mph or greater (but less than 5 mph). A robot which moves at a speed of less than 0.5 mph on the path for 10 consecutive minutes or more will be eliminated.  This rule is to eliminate a robot which, for example, might move at a speed of 1 inch per minute and take hours to complete the course.  Minimum speed decisions will be made by the judges based on available time.

  11. A judge and one or two robot operators will accompany each robot throughout the course.  The judge and operators will be at least 5 feet behind the robot and will not communicate with the robot in any way.  In the event of unexpected or potentially dangerous robot behavior, the robot operators will be instructed to disable to the robot.  No human contact with the robot is allowed except in the event of an emergency stop.

  12. Spectators are welcome and encouraged to observe the robot contest, and spectators are expected to be present throughout the contest course.  Spectators will not be permitted to make contact with the robots or step onto the paved path in front of a robot.  Feedback from spectators will be used, in part, to score the robot "personality" portion of the contest.  Spectators will be permitted to stand along the borders of the path (but not on the path itself).

  13. Robots will receive personality points for communication with spectators and for exhibiting entertaining behavior throughout the course.  These behaviors might include playing music, voice announcements, identifying squirrels, telling jokes, etc.  Sounds generated by the robot should be audible to the average human at a distance of 10 to 20 feet outdoors. Please test your sound system outside -- you may need 20 to 30 watts of power for effective outdoor sound generation.

  14. The contest will take place in most weather conditions - except serious rain or a storm. We plan to offer the contest in the event of light rain.  Check this website for latest news on weather cancellations. Cancellation information will be posted to this website, or you may email the organizers for updates.



  1. Scoring will be based on the following performance criteria (100 points total):

    • Completion of Part 1: paved-path route within appropriate speed range and reaching waypoints #1 to #5 -- robots will receive 10 points per waypoint, for a total of 50 points.  The robot should be completely on the path at some point within 20 feet of each of the waypoints to receive the full 10 points.  A 2-point penalty will be incurred each time the robot moves off the path, or makes contact with orange cones during Part 1.  A robot must completely move off the path to incur this 2 point penalty, or physically move or dislocate an orange cone.

    • Completion of Part 2: off-road route (waypoint #5 to waypoint #6 within corridor and avoiding obstacles) -- 20 points.

    • Proper avoidance response to human obstacles and other robots on paved path (2 events) -- a robot will receive 10 points for each successful stop in the presence of a human or robot obstacle for a total of 20 points.  Judges will determine when and where robots will be tested. One obstacle test will be performed before the robot reaches waypoint #1.

    • Personality - interesting, cool, and otherwise intelligent robot behavior observed (examples include voice announcements, identifying spectators wearing hats, singing, telling jokes, educating spectators about robots, providing tour of campus, etc.) -- up to a total of 10 points

  2. Total possible points:

        5 on-path waypoints (@10 pts each) = 50 pts

        Final waypoint (across field with obstcles) completion = 20 pts

        2 obstacles (@10 pts each; Robot must stop between 2 and 6 ft of obstacle ) = 20pts

        Personality and human interaction = 10pts

        Total points = 100 pts

  3. Each robot will be permitted at least one attempt to navigate the campus course.  Hopefully, there will be adequate time for 2 attempts. The robots will be started in a random fashion and there will be at least a 2-minute interval between successive starts.  Additional runs will be allowed based on time constraints.  In the event of multiple runs, the final score will be the best score from any of the runs.  Waypoints would remain the same for the additional runs, but the start position might change, and the course layout might change (along with changes to the orange cone placement).

  4. Any robot that violates the spirit of the contest rules, in the judgment of the organizers, will be eliminated from competition.

  5. The actual course route (6 waypoint coordinates) will be disclosed (emailed) to registered participants at least 24 hours prior to the contest start time.  The position of human obstacles and other paved-path obstacles will not be designated on the actual course route.  There will be no other path diagrams or path information posted other than the 6 waypoint positions (these positions are accurate to within 30 feet or so.) The exact start position on the path will be disclosed at the start of the contest.  The exact start position for each robot might vary (within 75 feet), but all robots will start from the same general area.

  6. The robot requirements and contest specifications have been designed to remove any potential for harm or damage to the campus landscape, spectators, and wildlife.  The judges reserve the right to disable and remove any robot that demonstrates any inappropriate behavior, or is deemed to be  potentially hazardous in any way.  Runaway or "out of control" robots will be dealt with promptly and removed from the contest.

  7. We ask all Mini Grand Challenge participants to participate in a robot exhibit and demonstration event for spectators (from 12noon - 2pm) in the Woodland Building lobby area and the outside contest area.


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Divisions & Prizes:

All robots will compete in the same division.  It is expected, due to the technical challenges of this contest, that K-12 participants will be assisted by college level and professional level mentors.  However, there will be additional recognition for K-12 entries.  We may revise this policy depending on the number of registered entries at various levels.

A single $500 prize will be awarded to the robot scoring the most points (above 50 points).  A robot must score more than 50 points (out of 100 points) to be eligible for the $500 prize.  If no robot achieves 50 points, then there will be no cash prize awarded.  Certificates and other non-cash awards may also be presented. In the event that a robot team wins the cash prize, the award will delivered to a single designated team member within 3 weeks of the contest.  Additional prizes may be announced at the event.

If you are a company or organization, and you would like to sponsor a prize for this contest, please contact organizers. 
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Campus Path Pictures

  • The campus paths will not be closed on the day of the robot contest.  The Abington campus is a commuter campus located in a suburban area and there is little foot traffic on the paths on the weekends.  There will be another event taking place in the gym (on the other side of the campus) during the same weekend, but little interference in anticipated.  Spectators will be welcome, but the spectators will be asked not to interfere with the operation of the robots.

  • As mentioned in the rules above, there will be orange cones blocking off forks and splits in the path network for PART 1 of the contest.

  • The first set of images below were taken on May 5, 2005 at 3pm. Conditions may vary on day and time of contest.  These path pictures are examples only -- they may not reflect the actual path on the contest day.

  • The second set of images below were taken on November 23, 2005.

Click on thumbnails below to display a full size image.....

orange cones blocking off path at fork

orange cones designating last waypoint on path (WP#5)

Here are some pictures taken on November 23, 2005 at 11:30am of the campus.  The images shown below do not necessarily correlate in any way to the actual path on the day of the contest.  Click on thumbnails to view full-size images.

path near pnd

path near pond






path adjacent to building


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Robot Exhibition & Demonstrations

All Mini Grand Challenge robots and robot designers are invited to provide an exhibit and demonstration of their robots from 1-4pm in the Woodland Building lobby.  This is an opportunity to answer questions from the general public, demonstrate the robots,  and discuss plans for next year's Mini Grand Challenge.

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Registration (registration starts January 15, 2011)

     The Penn State Abington Mini Grand Challenge robot competition is open to all students and adults of all ages and backgrounds. Students and adult participants need not be sponsored by a school, club, or organization.

     The registration is free. The competition is limited to a maximum of 20 robots total.  Deadline for registration is March 31, 2011,  Registration will be closed when the limit is reached for or the date of the registration deadline is reached -- whichever occurs first.

    Please register each robot via the form provided below.   Fill out and electronically submit one form per robot (click on submit button).   Participants who do not register on time will not be guaranteed participation in the contest. Registration information should appear on the "Who is Registered?" web page within 48 to 72 hours after submitting the registration form.

   This registration form is for the April 16, 2011 Mini Grand Challenge event.


    1 Robot Name*:                   * indicates required fields

    2. Contact Name*:   

    3. Contact Email*:   

    4. School/Organization*:

    (If not representing a school or organization, then enter "self" in the text box above)

    5. City*:     
   (include city and state for sponsored and "self" robots)

    6. State*:   

    7. List all team member names (optional):


    8. Enter your robot website (optional):     

    9. Any Comments (optional):



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Directions To Penn State Abington College
     From PA Turnpike take exit #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. (From Phila area, take Rt. 611 north, past Rt 73, and make right onto Woodland Road.)

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Commentary and Philosophy
  1. This Abington "Mini Grand Challenge" outdoor robot challenge was designed to be very difficult.  The purpose of this challenge, much like the DARPA Grand Challenge, is to promote advances in robot technology, robotics education, and creative thinking.  We do not anticipate that any robot will be able to successfully complete every phase of the challenge -- but it is possible.  The task cannot be solved completely using only GPS sensors nor can it be solved completely using only a vision system.  Our goal here is to encourage participation in an advanced robot task without the need to spend potentially hundreds of thousands or perhaps many millions of dollars (as is the case for the DARPA Grand Challenge) .  A robot platform can be constructed for as little as several hundred dollars -- and lots of thought.
  2. The context of the Abington Mini Grand Challenge is a robot navigating in a suburban space -- not a desert.  These urban and suburban venues contain existing roads and paths (sometimes blocked by orange cones), small open areas, buildings, and people.  Unlike the DARPA urban challenge, there Mini Grand Challenge robots will not be interacting with other vehicles or observing traffic signals.  However, the Mini Grand challenge does require spectator interaction, which the DARPA challenge does not.
  3. The Abington contest requires interaction with humans.  Truly intelligent robots of the future should be able to navigate in areas inhabited by humans, and be capable of safely interacting with human beings. 
  4. The 1-gallon of water payload requirement is to emphasis the utility of future robots.  Robots that are truly useful should be able to transport goods, materials, supplies (such as water), medicine, and potentially other humans.  This 1-gallon water payload also eliminates very small robots that are not capable of transporting much in the way of a useful payload.

  5. One of the recent technical advances that makes this contest approachable is the availability of low-cost vision systems, both at the hardware and software level.  Inexpensive cameras (for less than $50) can be coupled with commercially-available and open-source image processing tools (examples include MATLAB, Labview, OpenCV, CMUcam, etc.) and low-cost GPS devices to begin to tackle this type of problem (it still will not be easy, but you will learn a lot.)  This approach encourages the rapid prototyping of innovative algorithms using off-the-shelf components.  Of course, there are those who like to fashion solutions from scratch -- that is OK too.  Diversity is a good thing.

  6. Due to  time limitations and the difficulty of the task, we expect only a handful of robots to participate during the first few years of this contest -- but that is ok!  Our goal is to move forward with the contest, evaluate the results, and learn how to improve the contest for the future.  We expect the participation to grow each year.

  7. The contest developers will gladly consider any minor rule changes or adaptations that will allow the participation of innovative technology that is consistent with the overall goals of the contest event.  Robots that are interesting, but do not directly solve the Mini Grand Challenge, are welcome as exhibitions.

  8. Each year, monarch butterflies are capable of navigating autonomously from areas such as Abington, PA (and other northern locations) and traveling by air over a thousand miles to Mexico.  All we are asking is that a robot move less than one half of a mile within a campus setting along paths and across a field.  Again, it is not that easy.

Questions and Answers

1. Who can participate in the Penn State Abington Mini Grand Challenge?

The Penn State Abington Mini Grand Challenge is open to anyone -- K-8, high school, college, adult, professional, home schooled, and other.  A robot team may be sponsored by any school or organization or a robot team may work independently of any school or organization.  There is no registration fee.  Participating teams are not required to submit any design plans, formal reports, or software listings, but we hope that the participants will be willing to share and discuss ideas informally during the event.

2. What is the parts list for the blue "Powerwheels" robot car pictured in this website?

This robot car depicted in this webpage was constructed primarily by freshman and sophomore engineering, computer science, and IST students at Penn State Abington during the spring of 2004 into 2005 (with some help from the instructor).  The robot is based on a commercially available Power Wheels (tm) battery-powered car that has been modified for computer control.  We used a bicycle gear and a chain connected to a servo motor for steering control, and utilized an electronic speed controller for control of the motors. We ultimately used a 6-volt battery to provide power to the servo motor and wheels, and a 12-volt battery with an inverter to supply power to the laptop, speakers, etc.  In our experiments, we used a HandyBoard to control both the steering and the wheel motors (later replaced with a Pontech SV203). It is not perfect, but it works (most of the time).   Basically, any standard microcontroller, PDA,  or laptop that can control servo motors can control this vehicle. The other sensors (navigation, vision, obstacle avoidance) are up to you.  It is not necessary that you use this robot platform in the Mini Grand Challenge, but it is an example of a low-cost solution that would be suitable.  We can provide more information upon request.  (It is considerably less expensive than some of the multi-million dollar DARPA Grand Challenge robots.)

Here is the parts list for the Penn State Abington robot car pictured above:

  • (1) Fisher Price Power Wheels (tm) Jeep Wrangler Model #78537 with 12V NiMH battery $229.00
    (Note: we have had good results with a F-150 Powerwheels vehicle $150 also)

  • (1) 6V Power Wheels Battery NiMH (optional) $40.00 + $25 for charger

  • (1) HiTech HS-805BB 343 oz-in servo - $50.00

  • (1) Duratrax MOSFET Electronic Speed Controller DTXM1050 (no longer available)
    Equivalent DuraTrax IntelliSpeed Auto-Sport Forward/Reverse ESC;  $38 each; (we have not tried this component)

  • 23-tooth bicycle gear (on servo); 54-tooth bicycle gear (on steering wheel);  and a bicycle chain

  • Pontech SV203 microcontroller ($50); however, any microcontroller (Basic Stamp, PIC controller, Handy Board, etc,) that controls a servo will suffice

  • Aluminum sheets, plates, screws, miscellaneous hardware
    NOTE: DO NOT attempt any modifications to any vehicles unless supervised by individuals knowledgeable in basic electricity, electronics and safety procedures.

  • Laptop running MATLAB (with image processing toolbox)

  • The Penn State Abington robot also uses a Garmin eTrex GPS (with serial cable; ~$100), inexpensive USB camera ($50), and MATLAB (with Image Processing Toolbox).  These components are not required for other participants.


3. What is the DARPA Grand Challenge?

    The DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge is a USA government-sponsored robot challenge to encourage advancements in autonomous robot technology and research.  In 2004 and 2005 the goal was to design a robot to drive approximately 200 miles across the desert from the Los Angeles, California area to the Las Vegas, Nevada area.   The contest was first offered in 2004 and the first prize was $1 million.  No robot was capable of traveling more than 7 miles or so without experiencing some type of breakdown or failure in 2004.  The prize for the October 2005 contest was $2 million, and several robots completed the task successfully.  In 2006, the DARPA Grand Challenge required robots to navigate autonomously in an urban environment.   Check the DARPA website for more details.

4. How much access to the contest paths do participants have prior to the Abington Mini Grand Challenge contest?

    The intention is that there would be an opportunity to test the robot throughout limited "portions" of the defined course prior to the contest. The rules for the 2007 challenge stipulate access to no more than 25% of the contest path.  For example, some participants may need to calibrate vision, or test the robot traction on a hill, etc. However, it is not permitted to perform a  "walk through" with the robot over the entire course with the intention of calibrating any type of dead-reckoning approach or any other technology.  It would also not be permitted to have a human walk through the entire course collecting GPS data or taking video through to be later used by the robot. Basically, if you need to walk with (or without) the robot through the entire course, then this defeats the purpose of designing an autonomous robot to complete the task.  If participants have any questions about these issues, please contact the organizers for clarification.

5. What GPS data will be available to the contestants and in what format?

    I plan to email the text GPS coordinates (in simple ASCII text format)  of the 6 waypoint GPS coordinates (waypoints) to the registered participants 24 hours prior to the contest. This is a total of 6 GPS coordinates.  The GPS location of the start point will not be available prior to the contest.  The exact starting position on the path will be disclosed at the start of the contest.  There is no other GPS data supplied for this contest.  I am not planning to post any detailed diagram or picture of the planned route other than just supply the GPS waypoint coordinates. The diagram on the website is an abstract drawing only and does not reflect the actual course layout.  It is really up to the contestants as to how much prep time they need on the course before the contest (see questions and answer #4 above).
    The format of the text GPS data will be latitude (DD MM.MMM) and longitude (DDD MM.MMM) format.  The GPS data will be recorded with an inexpensive Garmin eTrex handheld GPS unit and reflect the tolerances of these devices (+/- 30 feet or so).
    Here is an example set of data (a total of 6 GPS data points will be provided; one set of coordinates per line)
        Waypoint #1    latitude  N 40 07.344   longitude  W 075 06.640
        Waypoint #2  ...
        Waypoint #3  ...
        Waypoint #4  ...
        Waypoint #5  ...
        Waypoint #6  ..
    The motivation here is to keep the logistics of the robot competition data as simple as possible, maintain a challenging contest with an urban theme, make the contest spectator-friendly, and promote participation.

6.  How will the robots be judged in the category of spectator interaction and robot "personality"?

    Robots are expected to entertain or interact with spectators during the entire duration of the contest run.  Of course, interaction and personality can be subjective quantities to evaluate.  However, there will be some guidelines to .help us judge the level of interaction.  For example, the simplest forms of personality will be robots that play music or play recorded material, such as jokes, or recorded educational material.  Somewhat more advanced robots might make announcements of their status and perhaps tell the audience when the robot has achieved certain goals.  These comments are more context dependent. More advanced interactions might include identifying people, objects or features during the course, or responding to audience/spectator inputs.  Alternatively, visual communication could be used instead of, or along with, audio.  It is your choice -- be creative.  Robot communication with spectators should not involve or impact navigation in any way.  For example, a robot should not ask the spectators which way it should turn to successfully navigate.
    The general criteria for judging robot-spectator interactions at this point will be: 1) How audible is any sound generated by the robot (we are looking for loud robots); or how noticeable is the visual communication;  2) How context dependent and rich is the interaction (for example one-way versus two-way communication, etc.); 3) overall popularity of the robot personality based on spectator feedback; 4) duration of robot interaction throughout the course of the robot match. 
    Overall, the personality and spectator interaction is a very challenging technology to achieve, and there always will exist some element of subjectivity.  While we expect some simple approaches in the first few contests, it is expected to grow in sophistication and creativity.  It should be fun, at any rate.

7. Is it necessary to use GPS in this contest?

    Because the robot start position in on a paved path segment, and because the first phase of the contest requires the robot to remain on the paved path (as designated by the orange cones), it is not absolutely necessary to utilize GPS signals during this phase of the contest.  Some contestants may utilize GPS technology during this phase to generate meaningful voice announcements.  For example, a robot could announce when it arrives at a designated waypoint, or a robot could announce its distance from a designated waypoint.  It is also possible to "fuse" GPS data with other sensor data to achieve navigation.  The decision to use GPS, and at what level to use GPS,  is at the discretion of the robot designer.  It is not permitted to map out the entire course with GPS data prior to the contest (see rules).  Also, GPS signals may not be a accessible throughout the entire robot course.

8. What outdoor competitions are similar to the Abington Mini Grand Challenge?

    At the high end, there is the DARPA robot challenge, but there are also outdoor robot contests which are more accessible to students, researchers, and hobbyists.  The Seattle Robotics Society offers a Robo-Magellan outdoor robot contest each year.  This contest does not specifically include path following, but it does include outdoor robot navigation using GPS waypoints.  Orange cones are used for goals.  I do not believe there is a human-robot interaction component.  It appears to be an excellent contest.

   There is also the annual IGVC Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition offered at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

    There are several universities that host outdoor robot contests using paths that are delimited by white lines or stripes and other markers. One good source of information regarding robot competitions of all types (outdoor, aerial, underwater, etc) is the Robot Contest FAQ maintained by Steve Rainwater.

    Two of the features that makes the Penn State Abington Mini Grand Challenge unique is the requirements for human interaction/entertainment and the availability of low-cost robot platforms.

9. Are there any new changes to the 2011 Mini Grand Challenge compared to prior contests?

    There are no major changes to the 2011 contest. However, it is now specified in 2011 contest that the robot must stop within 2ft and 6ft of an obstacle (such as a human) as the robot travels along path between waypoints 1 and 5..  That is, when the robot stops, it should be at least 2 feet away from the obstacle and no more than 6 feet from the obstacle, We also suggest (but do not require) that the robot indicate (for example, audible signal, etc)  that it is stopping for a detected obstacle.  If the robot moves within 2 feet of the obstacle before stopping, there will be no points awarded for the obstacle event.  If the robot collides with the object (which may be a human), there will be an additional 10 point penalty and it is possible the robot run will be terminated if it poses any danger - as determined by the judges.  It will not be permissible to redo the run if the robot is disqualified because of a collision, but the robot may qualify for additional runs if the robot is deemed safe by the judges. All judges' decisions are final.

Here are some rule clarifications (made in 2007): 1) access to the contest course is limited to 25% of the total course. Robots may not be "walked" through the entire course layout, nor can a human walk through the entire course collecting data to be used by the robot; 2) only the 6 waypoint GPS coordinates will be provided prior to the contest corresponding to the 6 waypoints, but not the start location.  All robots will start in the same general area, but the exact start location for each robot will be disclosed at the contest start time; 3) clarification has been made concerning the second run if time permits.  The 6 waypoints will remain the same for the second run, but the path and starting point may be changed; 4) robots will be penalized for contact with the orange cones (any contact which alters the position of the cones).  5) The minimum robot speed has been reduced to 1mph (from 1.5 mph) and a penalty has been described for robots which move less than 0.5 mph for 10 consecutive minutes.

    Basically, any robot which was operational in the 2005 to 2010 contests should be operational in the 2011 contest.  Contact organizers if there are any questions.

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Contact for more information

Bob Avanzato
Associate Professor of Engineering
Penn State Abington College
1600 Woodland Road
Abington, PA 19001
(c) Copyright 2005-2011 R. Avanzato
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