Outdoor Challenge Rules

PARTS Outdoor Challenge


Final Rules for May 25, 2008

Purpose – The POC consists of outdoor autonomous navigation events that give robots an excuse to take their humans out for a walk and get some air.  The 4 events are staged in increasing order of difficulty.  All events are friendly to newbots but challenging even to sentients.  The format will generally be low-key and flexible, adjusting for changes in weather, number of entries and whatever else is significant on the day of “competition”.  The POC shall be easy to plan and execute, so the club will hold several per year.

Challenge Event #1 – Out and Back

Drive from the origin to a point at least 100 feet away and back to the origin and stop. Distance is then measured from the stopping place to the origin.  Shortest distance wins.

Challenge Event #2 – Square

Drive from the origin around a square (typically 100 feet on each side) clockwise or counter-clockwise as instructed by the judge, and stop at the origin.  Distance is then measured from the stopping place to the origin.  Shortest distance wins.

It is legal to cut the corners, pivot 90 degrees, execute a 3-pt turn or whatever it takes to transition from one leg to the next.   Robots are expected to make an honest attempt at traveling the correct distance on each leg but currently this is not judged.

Challenge Event #3 – Out and Back With Obstacles

Identical to event #1 but this time there are obstacles in the way.  

Challenge Event #4 – Cross Country

This event challenges the robot to travel several hundred yards toward an unseen finish point with buildings and trees and other objects in the way.  There is a time limit of 10 minutes and the course will be laid out such that the expected path around all the obstacles will be 900 feet, so a robot averaging 1.5 feet per second along a reasonably smart path will finish right on time.  Robots can travel at whatever speed they prefer of course, as long as they are safe.

Scoring is based on distance from the finish point when the robot stops or at the time limit, whichever is earlier.  Bonusses for each gate successfully negotiated will reduce the effective distance to the finish by 10% for each gate.

There will be 2 gates placed along the course out of sight of each other.  Gates are made of 2 orange traffic cones 4 feet apart.  They will be placed  along the most likely path, but a bit off to the side, easy to see with a camera but unlikely to pass through without a camera.  It does not matter which direction the robot passes through a gate.  The bonus is collected if the robot passes completely through the gate without moving either of the cones out of place.

The course is defined by the start and finish points, which will be made available a few minutes before the start of the event.  Google Earth lat/long coordinates will serve as the reference, however distance & bearing will be provided as well.  This is the only information allowed to be entered or programmed into the robot.  It is not permitted to enter intermediate waypoints.  Also prohibited are pre-programmed maps or object locations.

If there is enough interest, we hope to add mapping and planning as a feature of future events but you never know….

Robots that lack vision can and should still compete and do well.  Robots that lack good navigating, obstacle detecting or all-terrain skills will likely get lost or stuck.

It is likely that there will be people and pets on the course and they may constitute serious unplanned obstacles.  Normally this should be taken in stride but in a severe case, the judges may allow a re-run or make a distance adjustment, at their discretion.

Robots must halt at the time limit, either automatically or be halted by their operators.

Robots are expected to be fully autonomous, however there may be special hazards on this course for which a bit of herding or downright steering by the operator is allowed.  This includes avoiding bodies of water, flower beds, cliffs and maybe some others, all at the judges’ discretion.  There will likely be a distance penalty assigned by the judges for substantial operator steering or herding.

There are no limits on instrumentation, size, weight or mode of power other than the safe/sane rule.  Note that remote computers are allowed, although not likely practical due to distances and obstacles.  Flying and swimming are not allowed.  Robots must either roll, walk, hop, slither, run or crawl.  Sauntering, toddling, wandering and roaming are subject to the judge’s mood.

If the event becomes too easy, we will make it harder.  If people start showing up with $100,000 robots and teams of 20 developers, this is great and we will of course split into levels so that “amateurs” still have a challenge they can win.  But we still won’t offer $1million prizes.

Venue – The venue for a POC event will be announced by the organizers.  Hopefully, several POC’s will be held each year and ideally they would be held at changing locations for variety of challenge.  The event can be held at schools, parks, fair-grounds, stadiums, industrial sites and maybe even exotic vacation retreats.  It is not (yet) intended that the POC be held in extreme weather conditions.  The organizer may call off the event ahead of time based on severe weather forecasts or on the spot if the weather turns too nasty.  Also it is not intended that robots travel through water deeper than 0.5″.  Some other features not intended are stairs, cliffs, pits, interiors of buildings, traffic-bearing roads, active bike paths, and so forth.  These are all regarded as aspects of common sense.

Safety – Robots must be fundamentally safe and sane.  The head judge has the right to scratch at any time before or during the event any robot  deemed risky, unsafe or hazardous.  Robots must have some practical system that allows the operator and/or judge to halt, disable or change the course of the robot if it is about to get in trouble.  Something more subtle than a basebal bat is highly recommended.  See the Liability section below.

Autonomy –  All robots must be autonomous while on the course, with exceptions noted in event #4.

Attempts – There is only one attempt or trial allowed per event, with the rare exception noted for event #4.

Scoring and Awards – Scoring will be determined for each event and overall by robot.  Awards will not likely be $1 million checks, but you can always dream.  At a minimum, scores and rankings will be posted on the club website.  Great achievements will be duely noted in monthly meetings and great achievers will receive public adulation (but will also be required to pontificate at monthly meetings and publish in scholarly journals).  Honorary Certificates of Artificial Achievement will be liberally bestowed on robots that make the effort to show up.

If the POC is looking like it might become successful, PARTS will establish a ranking system on its website.  Maybe this can eventually extend to a more nationwide system.  That would be nice.

The robot’s score for each event is simply the distance from the robot’s stopping place times the fractional bonus if applicable.  The overall score is simply the sum of points for all events.  For the purpose of overall score, a robot will receive points for each event not entered equal to the worst score by any robot for that event.

A big fat score of 0 for all 4 events would be a miracle and any robot achieving that will immediately replace the president of the club.

Abuse – No robots will be tortured, humiliated, insulted or stigmatized in the POC.  They will be followed, closely watched and applauded however.

Liability – Each contestant is fully responsible for any damage to person or property caused directly or indirectly by his or her robot.  The Portland Area Robotics Society, the event organizers, judges and other entrants are not responsible for damage caused by any competing robots.  Each contestant must sign a waiver of liability prior to the competition.  A minor must have a guardian present to sign their waiver.

Whining – Robots are permitted to whine and complain, since after all, they are doing the work.  People are not.  Please keep the event fun and light-hearted for all, including the organizers and humans.

Judges – One or more judges will officiate the contest. Their prime responsibilities will be to determine that a robot has successfully completed the requirements of a specific challenge, to provide measurements of the robot’s stopping position for scoring, and to close their ears to whining.  The decisions of the judges are final.

Thanks – Special thanks goes to David Anderson of DPRG for his organization of the first similar event in Dallas on May 10, 2008.  It is no coincidence that the PARTS Outdoor Challenge events #1-3 are basically a blatant rip-off of dpa’s hard work.  Event #4 owes nods to the DARPA Grand Challenge, SRS Robo-Magellan and DPRG’s Long Haul in no particular order.

Robert F. Scheer 5/20/2008