Designing autonomous battle robots – Invetech’s Annual Sumo Robot Challenge

At Invetech, we apply robotics technology to so many of the projects we undertake, helping to realize better healthcare technologies for the world of the future. But beyond this benevolence exists an undercurrent of competition, a desire to build robots to engage each other in a battle of wits and brawn, in a ring before a wildly cheering crowd.

Welcome to the world of the Invetech Annual Sumo Robot Challenge, where engineers and their children compete to be crowned Ultimate Sumo!

The concept of the Sumo challenge is simple – two autonomous robots compete within a 1.8 m (5.1 ft) ring, the winner being the first robot to push its opponent out of this ring. There are a few rules for our robot builders to follow:

  • The robot must comply to size constraints and fit within a 20 cm3 (~8 in) box
  • A maximum weight of 3 kg (6.6 lb); there is also lightweight class for Lego robots (kids class)
  • No weapons incorporated to deliberately damage your opponent
  • No unusually sticky tires or vacuum technologies to increase grip
  • And the most importantly, the robot must be completely autonomous – no remote controls or outside interference once the battle begins

There are several design challenges to be overcome on the road to Sumo mastery including: staying inside the circle, maximizing wheel-to-surface grip, identifying the location of your opposition within the circle, and maneuvering strategies (if your robot is trapped and looking like it will be defeated, what can it do to survive?).

The robots use sensors to detect the white edge of the otherwise black ring and to identify their opponent. The rest of battle comes down to robot shape (wedge shaped forms and hidden wheels are common), and attack and defense strategies. These can include slow and steady pushing, violent attacks followed by moments of calm, and retreating and spinning when under attack.

Over the years, this annual event has grown in status to become one of some significance, with friends, families and children in attendance, and around 130 people attending this most recent event. School holidays and children’s gifts have contributed to the turnout!

The competition for 2017 has been run and won, with innovative strategies outgunning heroic failures. Plans for next year are sure to be even more ingenious and enjoyable