Magazine article AI Magazine

AAAI Hosts the National Botball Tournament!

Magazine article AI Magazine

AAAI Hosts the National Botball Tournament!

Article excerpt

* Botball is a national program in which teams of middle and high school students design, build, and program small autonomous mobile robots to compete in a highly charged interactive (but nondestructive) tournament. Botball students learn to program in c, construct feedback and control loops, create electromechanical systems, and integrate it all together while they work on a team. Botball takes place in regional tournaments across the country and culminates in a National Botball Tournament traditionally hosted by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence at its annual conference. This program puts reusable equipment into schools and, at the Botball Teacher Workshops, trains teachers in robotics and the integration of robotics into their curriculum. Botball appeals to a wide variety of students and brings out the best in each, challenging them to solve realworld problems in a dynamic environment at their own level.

Ninety-four robots, working in teams of two, participated in this year's National Botball Tournament, sponsored by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and held at the Seventeenth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. The robots, programmed in a multitasking dialect of c, exhibited standard Al behaviors such as target tracking, multiagent cooperation, and adversarial planning, all in an unpredictable dynamic environment. There were two unusual things about this group of robots, seldom seen at a professional conference: (1) all the robots worked and (2) none of the designers-programmers were old enough to vote.

Presented by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, a nonprofit educational organization, the Botball program uses the activities of robot building and programming to engage students in understanding the practical applications of science, engineering, and math. More and more middle and high school students are venturing into the complex world of Al as they program their robots to accomplish complex navigation and manipulation tasks.

Botball is a program for middle and high school age students. Teams register online in the fall at, and the program takes place in regional Botball events across the country throughout the spring. Each regional program kicks off with a professional development workshop for teachers to give them an introduction to robotics, allow them hands-on experience with the Botball kit, and offer methods of using robotics to support curriculum in a variety of subject areas.

Each team receives a robot kit at the teachers' workshop. The 2001 kit contained two microprocessors (a handyboard and an RCX brick); a variety of customized sensors and motors, including servos, pneumatics, and LEGO construction materials; software; documentation; and other goodies. The processors are programmed in an interactive, multitasking version of c that allows the students to execute code fragments, as well as programs, encouraging students to dive right into programming and helping them to learn on the fly.

After receiving their kit, students have about six weeks to design and build two robots to play this year's game. Botball emphasizes a learn-by-doing approach, and robots are to be created completely by students. Adults can serve as mentors, but students do all the work. In addition to working on their robot, students also create their entry for the web site competition at this time, designing a web site that displays their solution to a robotics-related challenge.

In the Botball 2001 game, robots scored points by positioning colored balls or tubes onto the game board or in the goal (figure 2). Bonus points were awarded if the team placed a ball or tube on a post. Teams had the opportunity to double or quadruple their points by moving the goal to their side or moving their robot into the goal. Such a challenge allows students to be creative in their solutions. Some robots follow search patterns or perform simple line following or obstacle-avoidance routines. …

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