Tiny bots take shot at PSU

This Sunday, the SMSU ballroom will be invaded by robots of all kinds and shapes to compete in contests of skill, dexterity – and sumo.

The Portland Area Robotics Society, in conjunction with the PSU chapter of the Robotics and Automation Society, will host PDXBOT.03, an annual free exhibition of robotics technology.

The public will be able to enter into a raffle to win an oscilloscope, donated by Techtronics, as well as witness battling sumo bots, and peruse the wares of local vendors of robot-related goods.

Portland Area Robotics Society, which meets monthly in the Portland Center for Advanced Technology on campus, was founded about 10 years ago as an informal group of robotics enthusiasts.

Group membership comes from all over the community, explained Pete Skeggs, president of Portland Area Robotics Society.

“Some members are high school or middle school students, engineers from Intel, Techtronics or other tech companies, teachers, artists, one guy who’s probably the best robot-builder in the club manages service departments for car dealers.”

In 2001, the group reorganized and moved PDXBOT from OMSI to PSU, established bylaws and solidified their focus.

With that has come a close working relationship with PSU’s Robotics and Automation Society (RAS).

Mihail Pivtoraiko, president of RAS, is encouraged by this partnership, and the connection to the community of professionals that comes with it.

Pivtoraiko will be showcasing the RAS soccer-playing robots at the convention on Sunday. Each one walks independently and tries to control an orange ball on a miniature soccer field.

While there aren’t any other area robotic soccer teams for Pivtoraiko’s bots to play with, RAS members will be there to demonstrate how their bots walk and locate the ball.

The two events that are expected to be the most heated, with multiple leagues of competition, are the sumo and line-following competitions.

In sumo, robots play the part of sumo wrestlers. With their tiny chasses pulled to the 5-foot-diameter ring via magnets for maximum torque, the little automatons battle to push each other out of the ring.

Skeggs comically recalled that the first winner of a robosumo competition was a rock.

“Since then we’ve made rules saying that it actually has to move,” he said with a chuckle.

In line following, the robot is charged with following a set path, curving around bends and so forth until it reaches the end of the track. The event is split into two categories, one for younger robot builders and one meant to showcase more complex robotics.

New this year is the walking competition, where non-wheeled robots will walk to the end of a course, realize that the course has ended, turn around and walk back.

RAS will show off its six-legged walker in the event.

All the robots competing “think for themselves,” said Skeggs, who has been a robotics enthusiast since he was 12 and built his first robot.

Since that day in 1976, Skeggs has seen a lot of changes in the robotics community, most notably the effect that the Internet has had on making supplies available.

“When I was (building) you had Radioshack and maybe a couple of mail-order dealers,” Skeggs said. Now robot builders have access to any number of parts dealers on the Web.

PDXBOT.03 will be held in the third-floor ballroom of Smith Memorial Student Union. Fighting begins at 10 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. Admission is free.