Abington's outdoor Mini Grand Challenge robot event inspired by DARPA

The Mini Grand Challenge 2011, "Suburban Challenge" -- an autonomous outdoor ground robot contest and robot exhibit -- will take place from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 16, outside of the Woodland Building on the Abington campus. This contest, inspired by the DARPA Grand Challenge, challenges mobile, ground robots to autonomously navigate paths throughout the suburban campus of Penn State Abington while avoiding obstacles and tackling off-road detours. Robots must carry a one-gallon container of water, and each robot must attempt to "entertain" spectators. To watch video from last year's event, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6nQB5JmcRk online.

According to Bob Avanzato, associate professor of engineering at Penn State Abington, 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.

“Some day in the not too distant future, cars will be able to navigate safely under computer control on our streets and highways,” said Avanzato. “This technology will save lives and conserve needed resources. The Penn State Abington outdoor robot contest is a way to inspire our students to pursue the skills and research needed in order to make these technologies a reality.”

First place prize is $500. Free pizza and beverages will be available for all participants, spectators and guests. For more information, contact Bob Avanzato at [email protected] or go online to http://www.cede.psu.edu/users/avanzato/robots/contests/outdoor/index.htm.

Can’t get enough robotics? Don’t despair: Penn State Abington will fill the afternoon from 12:30 to 5 p.m. on April 16 in room 112 Woodland building with an exhibit and second robotics contest, The Regional Fire Fighting Robot Contest. Participants from K-12 through college and beyond will participate and showcase their innovative and creative robot designs. Over 40 robots and students from over 15 schools participated in the event last year, and increased participation is expected this year. Spectators of all ages are welcome, and all robot activities are free and open to the general public. Go online to http://www.cede.psu.edu/users/avanzato/robots/contests/firefighting/index.htm for more information.