Penn State Abington
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Robo-Hoops | Firefighting | Mini Grand Challenge | TrailBlazers | Q & A

Key Features of Abington Robot Contests:

  • Contests provide access to a wide range of students (K-12, college) and professionals (various age groups compete in separate divisions).

  • Contest registration is free and allows for low-cost (yet highly sophisticated) robot solutions and setup.
  • Robot solutions involve software technology (programming) as well as hardware technology.
  • Contests are offered at convenient times for educators and students.
  • Contests and exhibits support curriculum integration, science fair projects, club activities, and research projects, all based on robotics.
  • Competitions are designed so that students can enter multiple years and build on previous. successes (and failures).
  • Contests emphasizes education, creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, and fun nature of robot design.
  • Contests promote interest in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information science and computer science..
  • Promotes entrepreneurship, leadership, and community involvement.
  • Contests achieve a healthy balance between competition and fun; the major emphasis is on education, community, inspiration, and the sharing of ideas.
  • Robot contests and exhibits have been offered at the Penn State Abington campus since 1995.


Autonomous robots must pick-up and shoot or dunk foam balls (4 inch diameter) into a net positioned 12" above playing surface. Head-to-head contest. Contests were held in since 1995.  .  Click here for more information (rules, registration, schedule, pictures, etc.) >>>>


Based on the Trinity College Home Fire-fighting robot contest. Autonomous robots must navigate in a maze consisting of 4 rooms, find a randomly located candle and extinguish the candle in a minimum amount of time. Regional contest offered annually at Abington since 1997.   Check website for details.
Click here for more information (rules, registration, schedule, etc.) >>>>

Mini Grand Challenge "Campus Tour" Outdoor Robot Contest
The Penn State Abington Mini Grand Challenge outdoor robot contest challenges mobile, ground robots to autonomously navigate paths throughout the campus of Penn State Abington College while avoiding obstacles and tackling off-road detours.  The objective of this contest is to promote advances in engineering design, computer technologies, artificial intelligence, and robotics.  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.  Also, the contest will not be held in the southern California area, but right here in Abington, PA (located in the Philadelphia, PA suburbs).  The first Abington Mini Grand Challenge was held in April of 2005.  Check website for next event.

Robots will be encouraged to interact with and entertain the spectators.  Robots will be rewarded for exhibiting interesting behaviors such as joke telling, song playing, voice announcements, etc.  This event is the first of its kind -- so anything can happen.
Click here for more information (dates, rules, registration, schedule, etc.) >>>>



Mobile robots (or teams of cooperating robots) must follow a line or navigate around obstacles to reach the goal in a minimum amount of time. Robots interact with electric train!  Offered in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001. Last contest date: Sat. Dec 8, 2001. This contest is no longer active.
 Click here for more information >>>


Questions and Answers

  1. How much time is required to prepare for one of the robot contests?
    Generally, students work for 2 to 4 hours per week, for a period of 6 to 10 weeks.  Some teams spend much less time, and others much more.  It depends on the equipment you use, the availability of mentors, team size, experience, and your educational objectives, etc. 

  2. What robot equipment is recommended for beginners to get started in robotics?
    It is recommended that you seriously consider the Lego Mindstorms Robot Invention System (RIS).  These robot kits have been used effectively in 2nd grade to college level.  The RIS kits generally cost $200 and require the use of a PC or laptop.  There are many programming languages available for the Mindstorms kits including RoboLab, Not Quite C (NQC), RCX Code, Visual Basic, Interactive C (IC), Java, etc.  There are may other commonly-used robot controllers such as the Basic Stamp, Handyboard, OOPic, Brainstem, and others.  Each controller has a unique set of pros and cons.

  3. Why do these contests emphasize autonomous (computer-controlled) robots?
    Autonomous robots (as opposed to remote-controlled robots) have the advantage of introducing students to software design, IT, programming languages, sensors, and artificial intelligence.  Software design, sensors, and microprocessor interfacing are important technologies. You cannot separate computer science from engineering.  For example, in your car there are embedded systems that control the anti-lock brakes, fuel injection, stabilization control, etc. -- these systems all work with microprocessors and software.   The same is true for your cell phone.  Basically, wherever there are microprocessors, then there is software.  And microprocessors are almost everywhere -- even in some sneakers!.  The good news is that you do not need any formal training in computer science and programming to be able to program a robot.  This is due to the availability of low-cost, intuitive programming tools.  Basically the only prerequisite to programming a robot is to be able to think logically.  There are many documented cases where 3rd graders have successfully learned to program robots.  In fact, you can learn how to program while you design your robot!

    Generally, remote-controlled robots generally do not have embedded computers, software, and sensors. Some of the contests described above allow for remote control of robots for K-8 levels  The idea here is that, as a first step, builders can create a working mechanical design that operates under remote control, enter the robot into the contest, then add a microprocessor and software to allow the robot to work autonomously in a future contest or activity.  Due to recent advances in low-cost computer and software technology, such as the Lego Mindstorms robot kit and others, it is feasible for a K-5 or middle school student, with little training, to design a robot to operate under software control.

  4. Who can I contact to get more information on the Penn State Abington robot events, and learn how to get involved in a robotics program in my school or organization?
    Contact Bob Avanzato at Penn State Abington for more information.  His email is