Outdoor robot contest and exhibit to take place a Penn State Abington

For more than a decade, Abington Bank has been a premiere sponsor of the challenging robotics events held at Penn State Abington. The bank will continue their community support from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, for Abington's "Mini Grand Challenge 2010-Suburban Challenge," an autonomous, outdoor, ground robot contest and exhibit. A $500 cash prize will be awarded to the first place team.

Mostly college teams -- from as far away as Illinois -- will descend upon the suburban campus later this month with their computer-programmed, GPS-guided mobile robots that will navigate a one half mile course around the wooded paths of Penn State Abington. While avoiding obstacles and tackling off-road detours, the mobile, ground robots must carry a one gallon container of water and attempt to entertain the spectators.

No easy feat, according to Bob Avanzato, associate professor of engineering and the creator of the event.

"The purpose of this challenge, much like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, is to promote advances in robot technology, robotics education and creative thinking. We don't anticipate that any robot will be able to successfully complete every phase of the challenge, but it is possible. The task can't be solved completely using only GPS sensors nor can it be solved completely using only a vision system. The 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," Avanzato said.

Carrying a payload and interacting with spectators isn't just for fun, according to Avanzato -- It's the future.

"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," said Avanzato. "The one-gallon of water payload requirement is to emphasize 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."

An indoor Fire-Fighting Mobile Robot Contest and Exhibit will also be held at 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 24 in Woodland Building. These smaller, autonomous robots must navigate through a maze, find a burning candle and extinguish it. Nearly 50 robots are registered to compete from about 15 regional schools. Interestingly, the teams for this competition are mostly from the middle and high school level.

The fire-fighting robotics event has practical applications as well, according to Avanzato.

"In the future a robot could be activated by a fire alarm, search for the fire, and maybe extinguish it before the fire company arrives," said Avanzato.

Thanks to Abington Bank -- voted "friendliest community bank" for the 16th consecutive year by Montgomery County Readers' Choice Awards -- these exciting robotics events are open to the public and refreshments are available to both spectators and participants, free of charge. There is no cost for teams to register and a cash prize and trophies are awarded, making the events both accessible and educational.

According to Bob White ’66, president and chief executive officer of Abington Bank and member of Penn State Abington's advisory board, giving back to the community makes good business sense and good neighbors.

"I like to support as many charities and organizations as we can because we are a community bank. It's good for the bank because we're getting our name out in the community, but it's also helping our community where we do our business."

For more information on these Penn State Abington robotics events, contact Bob Avanzato at [email protected] or go to the following websites: http://www.cede.psu.edu/users/avanzato/robots/contests/outdoor/index.htm and http://www.ecsel.psu.edu/users/avanzato/robots/contests/firefighting/index.htm online.