Absaluki 3

“Absaluki 3: Revenge of the Absaluki” sits on a workbench at Southern Illinois University Carbondale during its fabrication process earlier this year. The “battlebot” won the Robobrawl competition held March 9 at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Five other SIU robots also competed, with one placing third in the Midwestern Robotics Design Competition, also held that weekend. (Photo provided)

March 19, 2019

SIU battlebot ‘Absaluki’ brings home first place in Robobrawl competition

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. - Student robotics engineers from Southern Illinois University Carbondale made an impressive showing at the “Robobrawl” and another robot design competition held March 9 at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

SIU fielded six teams at the competitions, one of which featured 30-pound combat robots slugging it out two at a time in a double-elimination “battlebot” tournament. One SIU robot named “Absaluki 3: Revenge of the Absaluki,” came out undefeated in that contest, while another robot from the university finished in the top 16 and two others in the top 32.

Two other robots from SIU also competed in the Midwestern Robotics Design Competition, a large, objective-based competition that involved putting four robots into an obstacle course where they complete various tasks to earn points. The two robots that earn the most points in a round move onto the next round. 

One SIU robot dubbed “Geoff,” took third place in the MRDC, while the other landed in the top 32 for the competition.

Unstoppable drive train

Absaluki 3: Revenge of the Absaluki was the top bot in the battlebot competition. Lincoln Kinley, a senior in computer engineering and captain of the SIU team that fielded the champion, said the team’s strategy was to design and build a robot with a power drive train that was “practically indestructible” and a smaller weapon.

“In robot combat, even if you lose control of your weapon, as long as your robot can drive you are still counted as in,” Kinley said. “Our weapon ended up hardly working at the competition, however we still won first place due to the drive train never failing.”

Creative approaches to battle

SIU battlebot “Turtle Terminator” finished in the top 16 with two wins and two losses, while “Psychic Spoon” and “Prototype” went 1 and 2 for top 32 finishes. But even in defeat, SIU robots used colorful and imaginative offensive and defensive approaches.

“Turtle Terminator” featured a thick steel shell surrounding the inside of the robot. The armor proved impregnable throughout the competition.

“Psychic Spoon,” on the other hand, was equipped with a pneumatic flipper (later turned pneumatic puncher) aimed at flipping opponents out of the arena, winning by TKO. 

“Prototype” used a lifter mechanism with electronic control to pick up other robots. It could then flip over opposing robots if they featured a non-invertible design, or dump them out of the arena if they did, both leading to TKO.

Low budget, high marks

In the MRDC competition, top SIU finisher “Geoff” was built by the “Budget Team,” meaning its designers could spend only $200 when competing against other robots costing as much as 50 times that amount. Saluki robotics engineers chose to see this self-imposed limit as an opportunity, rather than a disadvantage, Kinley said.

“Robots with an unlimited budget often end up overly complicated, which causes them to fail during the competition,” he said. “Our Budget Team's robot ended up being very simple, but incredibly reliable as a result.”

Made primarily from wood, “Geoff” proved to be easily modifiable, which provided advantages, as well.

The final SIU robot competing in the MRDC, “Flying Sabertooth,” was fielded by SIU’s Senior Design Team and finished with a 1-and-1 record. It was perhaps the most ambitious design, originally envisioned as an autonomous, flying drone in order to capture the 8-time multiplier for points in the competition. (Although as of yet, no robot has managed to score a single point in this lofty category.)

“While we got the flying part working, the autonomous feature proved to be more difficult, and we ended up using a teleoperation control instead,” Kinley explained.

Team to do analysis

The SIU Robotics team next turns its attention to the NASA Robotic Mining Competition, May 6-10 at Kennedy Space Center. It also will conduct an analysis of the previous competition to improve its performance next year.

“Around the same time, we are going to do a thorough cleanup of our workspace, which got quite chaotic leading up to the competition,” Kinley said. “Next year, we plan on sending teams to Robobrawl and MRDC again, though we aren’t sure how many.” 

Robotics efforts teach many lessons

Bruce DeRuntz, professor in the technology degree program, director of the Leadership Development Program Registered Student Organization in the College of Engineering and robotics team adviser, said such competitions are important to students on many levels.

“It’s the culmination of a year of their hard work which began as an idea, developed into a design, built into a machine and now gets to be tested against some of the best teams in the country,” DeRuntz said. “When they come away from this competition as a champion or top-place finisher, they know that the education they are receiving in and out of the classroom at SIU can hold up against anyone in the Midwest.”

The team’s long-standing motto – “We build a team before we build a robot” – also is affirmed in the process, DeRuntz said.

“That strategy has led them to two other championships,” he said.

Kinley said SIU robotics gives students an opportunity to apply what they learn in classes to real-world scenarios.

“The experience we have is invaluable for being a real engineer,” Kinley said. “We learn the wide variety of skills required to design, fabricate and execute robotics projects, we learn to take ownership of our designs, and perhaps most importantly, we learn to work together as a diverse team to overcome any obstacle.”