LAUSANNE, Switzerland A "live" action battle of mobile simulated robots will be fought in September as the culmination of a competition that began in cyberspace last month among programmers and their automatons.
Robot competitions abound in engineering circles. But in the Artificial Life Creators Contest that kicked off April 15 under the sponsorship of Cyberbotics S.A. (Penthalaz, Switzerland), programmers will create code that will be used both for jousting in cyberspace and for driving real Khepera robots 50-mm-diameter sensor platforms in competition. The live-action showdown is scheduled to take place at the European Conference of Artificial Life here Sept. 13-17.
Using Cyberbotics' Webots simulation software, competitors are battling it out now for the dominance of cyberspace. The current segment of the competition is scheduled to run continuously from April 15 to June 30, in preparation for September's face-off. Webots is available for a variety of platforms and can be downloaded free from the company's Web site.
Robot pairs compete to outlast each other by navigating a maze to find randomly distributed "food" distribution stations. Cyberbotics has created a virtual version of the real maze that will be set up in Lausanne. Each robot starts the contest with the same amount of life force, which dissipates over time. The robot must search for food-distribution stations to replenish its life force.
In competition, dueling robots are simultaneously set loose at random locations within the maze. The bots learn to recognize landmarks that lead to the food stations. The stations are green when full, and the robots "feed" by walking up to them. After feeding, a station turns red while it "recharges," a process that takes progressively longer each time it is carried out.
Eventually, one of the robots starves, and the survivor wins the round. The champion will be the robot with the highest number of wins at the close of the competition.
The winner of the online competition, in addition to cash awards, gets free admission to the September conference and a 10-pack license for the full version of Webots. The winner of the live competition will receive the grand prize: one of the Khepera robots that will fight it out at Lausanne.
The robot, developed at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne as a research and teaching tool and commercialized by K-Team (Preverenges, Switzerland), is a 50-mm-diameter x 30-mm-high sensor platform with three wheels, two of which are powered by separate stepper motors. Its brain consists of a Motorola 68331 processor with 256 kbytes of RAM and 512 kbytes of ROM. Its standard sensor turret houses eight infrared proximity sensors, which can run untethered for about 30 minutes from on-board batteries.
Optional add-on turrets provide a gripper "hand" or other sensors. One sensor includes a micro-sized video camera, another a linear 64-pixel vision array and still another a general-purpose I/O-extension module for custom input. A radio-communications beacon can also be mounted atop the Khepera for untethered remote operation.
For the contest, the Khepera will be equipped with a color version of the video turret, as well as the standard array of infrared sensors. In all, it will accept inputs from eight infrared sensors, equally spaced around its circumference, as well as from the forward-facing 80 x 60-pixel color video camera.