Robot Contest

MAE156A Winter 2014 Robot Contest


The theme of the Winter 2014 MAE156A Robot Contest is based upon sensing and precision. High precision motion based on vision systems is required in semiconductor fabrication with wafer handling robots as well as robotic surgery. Indeed, UCSD is a leader in robotic surgery and have been featured nationally for their work with Natural Orifice Surgery.  Imagine that you are performing robotic surgery carrying an appendix that has been removed, and how critical it is that organ not be dropped or placed in the wrong location. Some inspirational robot videos are at:

·      Compilation of Robot Videos form NY Times.

·      High Speed Pick and Place with Parallel Mechanism

·      iPhone 4 Assembly Video (see times 2:20-2:40 and 4:56-5:40)

Your task is to sort cargo and place it in its correct position. The cargo is 1 inch diameter spheres, which can be the following materials:

  • Hollow Polypropylene: 2.2g McMaster Carr Part No. 9338K11
  • Delrin: 11.6g McMaster Carr Part No. 9614K27
  • Steel: 67g McMaster Carr Part No. 96455K62

Seven of these spheres will be placed randomly into a 9 inch length PVC tube with an I.D. of 1 inch. The number of spheres of each material can vary from trial to trial.The task for your robot is to remove the spheres from the tube, and place them onto your turntable in order from lightest to heaviest. The order can be clockwise or counterclockwise and the starting location is arbitrary. Each sphere is to be placed onto a short vertical tube (I.D. 0.5") located in the hole locations on your turntable. To demonstrate the precision of your robot and how smooth you can control it, tubes with various size docking holes are created. The smaller the docking hole you can use, the higher your score. The task will be considered successful only if all 7 balls have been transferred and none of them fall off a tube during any part of the operation.

Scoring is based on:

  • Highest score category successfully places all spheres in the smallest docking hole.
  • The second highest category successfully places all spheres in the medium docking hole.
  • The third highest category successfully places all spheres in the largest docking hole.
  • Within each category, the faster the robot, the higher the ranking.


  • The spheres must be loaded onto the turntable in a designated loading zone fixed to the ground, which cannot be larger than +/- 20 degrees around the circumference of the turntable.
  • One cannot sense the types of spheres while they are still within the tube.
    • One cannot sense the order of the balls while they are still in the tube, but this does not preclude measurement of the total tube weight or center of mass.
  • The small hold dock tubes cannot be permanently affixed to the turntable.
  • The complete robot must fit within your team's grey bin.
  • You will be allowed to modify the turntables however they must allow placing tubes with the same center locations as the present holes.
  • Nothing can touch the ball other than the tube while the turntable is rotating. Nothing can be used (such as a tacky adhesive) that it will prevent the ball from falling out of the hole.
  • Teams may use up to $40 worth of material to augment their robot kit. Students can use MAE Credit Chits (ie. fake money) to purchase parts from the TA, or use real money from their own pocket to purchase parts elsewhere. The TA "store" will include additional motor drivers, motors, ball bearings, and other parts.
  • Voltage cannot be increased beyond 12VDC.
  • If a ball falls off during the contest, that is a no scoring round. You may then reset and then run again until we are tired of watching it run. (if you provide cookies to TAs they may be more likely to stay interested). The ball falling off is defined as the robot losing automated control of the intended ball.
  • One intent of the rules is to require that balls are transferred one at a time. Rules will be adjusted if necessary to ensure this restriction.
  • If there are any questions about the rules please ask before you build!
  • NEW Rule: The robot must be completely autonomous, and students cannot touch the robot to start it (except for pressing an electronic start button) or during any part of its operation.

Milestones and Deliverables

    • Week 4: Pickup Robot Kit
    • Week 5: Robot Concept Meeting with TA (10%)
    • Week 6: Demo of Ball Identification in Lab (10%)
    • Week 7: Full robot operation w/largest tube, but not optimized for speed (10%)
    • Week 8: 
      • Robot contest. Final Performance (30%)
      • Oral Presentation in Class. 3 minutes (10%)
      • Robot Report (30%)

    Robot Parts

    Each pair can use $40 of "UCSD Credits" at the TA Supply Shop.

    Return Policy: Fully functioning items can be returned to the store within 2 days of purchase for full credit.

    Nathan Leahy,
    Feb 12, 2013, 1:27 PM
    David Adams,
    Sep 27, 2011, 5:21 PM
    Nathan Leahy,
    Feb 12, 2013, 1:27 PM
    Nathan Leahy,
    Feb 12, 2013, 1:27 PM
    David Adams,
    Sep 27, 2011, 5:22 PM