2011-12 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Below are FAQ about the Challenge Rules. Questions about rules must be submitted by the registered Team Leader via the online discussion forum or through email. All questions will be posted and answered here.

Added 20-Apr-2012

F53. May we use a solar tracking sensor?
There are no rules that prohibit the tracking of celestial bodies like the sun.

Added 9-Feb-2012

F52. Will samples be places inside any structures in the competition area?
No. Samples will not be placed inside any structures (i.e. buildings, trash cans, etc) on the course. See also F10.

Added 21-Oct-2011

F51. May I test my robot on-site prior to the event?
Absolutely no testing of robots will be allowed on-site prior to the event. The rules and regulations of the competition site directly prohibit various activities, specifically the operation of any sort of motorized vehicle. Violating any rules of the site would likely disrupt and delay the schedule of the entire event (a probable result of your actions is that the property owners rescind their offer to allow us to host the competition there) and thus doing so would be considered a violation of Section 4 of the Team Agreement.

F50. We have questions about swarm robots: do they need to carry jammers, have e-stops .075m above the ground, if one e-stop is hit is the entire robot run stopped?
No. Please see updated Rules R20 and C45. (Rules will be updated as soon as the final wording is approved)

F49. Will the wooden cube have sharp corners and edges or is it possible the corners will be significantly rounded?
The cube will be 10cm +/- .5cm. No attempt will be made to intentionally chamfer the edges.

F48. Can rule E9 be interpreted to mean the hard sample could be 20x20x20cm?
At this time, we will not be providing any additional details or information on the hard samples. However, recall that the challenge is about searching for and identifying samples, so we do no anticipate any special manipulation being required to handle the hard samples versus the easy or intermediate samples.

Added 11-Oct-2011

F47. Is it possible that the starting platforms will be set up as a “chute” entering the contest area with fencing on either side? Is it possible that the starting platform will be set up pointed directly at a close (< 2 m) snow fence?
No. The ‘front’ of the starting platform will never be aimed at any boundary fencing that is not at least 25 meters away. Additionally, the boundary fencing will only mark the outermost boundaries of the course, and, since the starting platforms will start inside the course, there will be no fencing ‘chutes’ leading to/from the platform(s).

F46. Is there any minimum separation between the snow fencing and the samples? Would you consider it legal to lean a sample against the snow fencing?
No sample will be placed, at the start, against the boundary fence or within one meter of the boundary fence.

F45. Are you planning to fully reveal the challenge location with either the topological data or satellite imagery?
Six months from the event, we will release appropriate topographical data and imagery of the course to aid all competitors in successfully achieving the challenge. It is intended for this information to mimic the information a satellite or previous rover may have collected about the area. It is not our intention to reveal the actual location of the challenge at that time. While it is possible a team may be able to guess a potential location from the information, it will not be confirmed until teams arrive at WPI and are then transported to the event.

F44. May I test my robot on-site prior to the dates of the event?
Answer clarified above. See FAQ F51.

F43. Will you be providing additional information on the hard samples?
Yes. No less than 6 months prior to the date of the competition, all fully registered teams will be provided with the potential rectilinear markings for the hard samples. Only samples with those markings are counted, but as per FAQ #2, we will not intentionally be placing false samples on the course.

F42. What happens if an official inadvertently triggers an e-stop in the middle of a run?
We feel that the potential of an e-stop being accidentally or unintentionally triggered during a run is very, very small. The scenarios in which this could occur are hard to imagine and nearly impossible to name outcomes for at this time. If this were to happen in the challenge, on-site judges would convene to evaluate the situation and determine an appropriate resolution depending on the exact situation and circumstances. Some examples of potential outcomes we believe would be considered are: restarting the robot in base with the balance of time remaining and field in current status, restarting the entire run from base including removing and replacing any samples collected, or stopping the run and evaluating the team’s performance based on the field as it currently stands. In no case will an inadvertent e-stop cause a disqualification of a team.

F41. How will you deal with samples that may roll or move because of wind, being hit by a robot, or being hit by an event official?
We anticipate placing samples such that they will not move because of natural (i.e. wind) forces. However, in any situation where movement of a sample is caused by natural forces or robot interaction, the sample will not be replaced to its original spot and it will ‘play as it lies’. In these cases, it is possible a sample will move closer to the boundary fence than 1 meter or become within 25 meters of another sample. In the event that a sample is hit or moved by an unnatural or non-robot force (i.e. event official) it will be replaced as close as possible to its original spot. In the case of multiple robots on the course this situation will be reevaluated.

F40. Will the PVC cylinder be completely florescent orange or will they show manufacturing markings? Will the inside be painted? Will you provide more information on the paint used?
Our plan is to lightly sand the PVC, prime it, then paint it orange and make the best effort to not have any markings show through. The inside will not intentionally be painted, although it is very likely in the process of spray painting it that some will get on the inside of the cylinder. A picture of an actual sample and the paint used will be provided soon.

F39. Will you be providing the brand/product number of paint used on the rock?

F38. Does “uniquely-colored” mean that the sphere has a single color that is different from other objects in the vicinity, or does it mean that there is an unusual pattern of multiple colors on the sphere?
It is intended to mean it has a single color that is different from other objects in the vicinity, although it is possible there would be a small marking on the sphere of a different color.

F37. Could you clarify R18 and how the pause switch is supposed to work?
Yes. It is intended that the pause switch be a robust switch that, when triggered by an event official, sends a signal to the robot to pause all motion. When triggered again, another signal is sent which tells the robot it may resume motion. Among other things, since it is possible that a single team entry could require multiple pause switches (i.e. for spawn), the pause switch should not be designed such that an event official has to continually hold the button for the duration of the run or for the duration of the pause in order for the robot to remain in that state. We envision, as an example, a garage door opener as a simple potential solution. Teams should plan for these buttons to be robust, easy to use, and easy to hold because the onus is on the teams to ensure the switch works and remains active for the duration of the run.

Added 29-Sept-2011:

F36. Rule R10 disallows externally moving parts in the home beacon. Could clarification be provided?
This rule is in place for safety, primarily for any event staff that may be around the starting area and since the home beacon is not subject to e-stop and pause rules. Any moving parts must be completely enclosed or contained to propose no safety hazard. For example, a Rotating Beacon Light would be legal because all it’s rotating and moving parts are contained inside the safety cover.

F35. Could clarification be provided on some of the following:

  • Are teams expected to cover 80,000 square meters for the pre-cached sample in 15 minutes? (C1)
  • Is the 80,000 square meters roving area one long strip, round, square, rectangular? (E4)
  • When will “limited topographical data” be provided? (E6)
  • When will the satellite imagery, including starting zones, be released? (E7)

See rule E7. No less than 6 months prior, teams will be provided with the imagery of the area. This will include “the area of interest for the pre-cached sample”. While the whole course will be available, teams will know a specific area of it that the pre-cached sample is located in relative to the starting locations once this imagery is released. We hope the limited topographical data will be available soon, we just are working to verify the information is correct and accurate.

Added 27-Sept-2011:
F34. R6 states “any combination of electro-mechanical items provided by the team that assists their robot in identifying their starting platform” – does this mean there is no communication allowed between the home beacon and the robot(s)?
No, teams are allowed to communicate between their robot and home beacon (per R22), provided it complies will all Disallowed Technology rules and FCC regulations.

F33. “The required payload may contain a strong magnetic source and frequency jammer to….” Couldn’t this magnetic source directly interfere with R6? And what about R20, spawn and R22, communications?
The required payload is designed to aid judges and inspectors in enforcing the rules on allowed and disallowed technologies. Teams are required to submit documentation about their robots, beacons, and communication protocol 6 months prior to the event with additional information on-site. Provided teams submit accurate and reasonable information about their plan and update any changes in a timely fashion, the required payload will not interfere with any allowed communication or technology.

F32. Are spawn allowed to communicate with each other and with the home beacon?
Yes, provided the communication meets all rules on allowed communication, disallowed technology rules, and FCC regulations.

Added 22-Sept-2011:
F31. Can we use spring-damper systems for shock absorption and suspension?
Yes, provided it is a sealed system and could theoretically work in a vacuum, and complies with Section 1.3 of the rules.

F30. Can we have multiple robots on the field as long as they all start within the specified dimensions?
Yes, see also Section 1.4 of the rules.

F29. Can we leave objects/beacons/robots on the field at the end of our competition run?
Yes. All items will be removed by event officials at the end of each competition run.

F28. Are flying robots allowed?
Provided they comply with Section 1.3 and 1.4 of the rules and could be proven to work in lunar and Martian environments.

F27. Are accelerometers allowed?
Yes, provided they comply with Section 1.3. Be aware that any sensors that utilize magnetic compensation will be disallowed.

F26. Can we use a device onboard that has a GPS, accelerometer, compass, etc, as long as we don’t use those features in our code or our challenge attempt at all?
Yes. We understand that it is tough today to purchase technology that doesn’t include some of these components, even if they will not be used, and therefore we don’t want to make the challenge even more difficult for anyone. If teams utilize devices with any of these disallowed technologies, the onus will be on them to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are not using them during the competition. Teams should be aware that it will be the determination of judges and inspectors as to whether a team has proven compliance with these rules, and teams may be asked to modify or remove certain components to make their robot legal to compete.

Added 15-Sept-2011:
F25. Where can I find the parts to make my own pre-cached sample?
The pre-cached sample is made of two items only, a hook and polyethylene. A drawing will be provided as soon as possible.

  • Hook: Home Depot Part #864420.
  • Polyethylene: McMaster.com Part #8701K55. Minimum size you can purchase in is 1 ft, then simply cut to 3 inches.

Questions added 14-Sept-2011 or earlier

F24. Is there a maximum deployed height the venue will support?
There is no restriction on the maximum deployed height of any robot or its components. However, it is possible that some of the natural obstacles (like trees) have overhanging branches that would limit heights taller than an average person in some areas.

F23. What does the 80kg mass of the robot apply to?
The 80kg mass applies to everything you as a competitor bring to the event and put on the starting platform to compete as part of your robot. This means it includes batteries, computers, e-stops, safety lights, and anything you might leave behind on the platform or on the course but needs to start with the robot. It does not, however, include the pause switch(es), the required payload in section 1.1, the home beacon, or any samples or materials collected during the run.

F22. Can my robot send information to me or a computer outside the course, as long as I am not transmitting any information back?
Absolutely not. There is no communication in any direction allowed with the robot from anything not contained within the course, inspected before the run, and included in the starting size and mass of the robot. While we understand this would be only to help you learn the robot’s processes better, everyone has to understand it’s a slippery slope. You are welcome to record data on-board, and we will video record all robot runs and make those videos available to each team after the event.

F21. When my robot is paused, what exactly needs to stop?
When your robot is paused, it will most likely be done so for the safety of an event official on the course, or to allow another robot to pass in the case of multiple robots. For the safety aspect, it is critical that driving cease as well as the outboard motion of any collection mechanisms, etc. It is not expected that your computing or sensing systems shut down, as it would likely be a tremendous time penalty for them to restart. Robots should not be moving, collecting, sorting, or otherwise actively interacting with the physical environment or samples when paused.

F20. Will teams be given time to initialize their robot computers prior to their Level 1 attempt?
No. Teams must place their robot on the starting platform completely powered off. Once ready and the team has left the starting zone, an event official will trigger the Master Power Switch for that robot. At that time, the robot will power up and must complete all initialization processes on its own. After Level 1, teams will be given access to their robots to reset and restore them to compete in Level 2.

F19. What will be interpreted as “damage” to a sample?
A sample will be considered damage if it has a permanent deformation or change in dimension.

F18. How do we know if our samples are “easy and obvious to remove”?
The goal with this rule is to ensure that the judges can easily access the sample to determine if they have come in contact with other samples, to analyze the mass of all components returned, and to evaluate whether the samples are within the vertical projection of the starting platform. If a sample is incredibly difficult to access or cannot be accessed without moving the robot, the judges may deem those samples inaccessible and not count them.

Teams will be asked to provide documentation to the inspector that clearly describes how to access where any items are stored within the robot. Accessing these items may require tools, and these should be provided by the team to the inspector.

F17. How important is the separation of the samples from one another?
Obviously, when collecting samples from an unknown area, sterile handling would be extremely important for their scientific evaluation. For the purposes of this challenge, this is an important area but not a critical one we are looking to investigate. For example, teams may employ simpler methods like separate compartments within the same box or wrapping the samples individually and placing them in a single box. Judges will only be looking to ensure that the surfaces of any samples never come in contact with one another.

F16. Are teams allowed to mark the starting platform? How will we know it is ours?
Each starting platform will be painted a bright color and teams will know which platform they are starting on prior to entering impound (although not which location that platform is in). In addition, teams are allowed to mark the platform as long as they do not permanently alter the platform and anything used to mark the platform is included in the robot mass, starts within the marked starting area, and violates no other rules. The Home Beacon starts on a separate platform directly behind the starting platform and is designed to aid competitors in this issue.

F15. Is the Home Beacon platform considered part of the starting platform?
No. This means that no part of your robot can start on or overhanging the Home Beacon platform. Additionally, any samples that end up on or overhanging the Home Beacon platform will not count.

F14. If my team only has one member at the event, will I be able to get assistance to move my robot?
Yes. You can ask for help from other teams or event officials. However, moving the robot is ultimately your responsibility and any damage that may occur during this process is your responsibility.

F13. Can I move my robot from impound to the starting zone for Level 1 by driving it under its own power?
No. See rule R-11.

F12. Can we get an unofficial inspection before our official one?
Yes. Any time before your robot is impounded your team may request an unofficial inspection. An inspector will review your robot for compliance and attempt to answer any questions you may have. A scale will also be available during this time. While these inspections are not final, our goal is to help make sure that every team that arrives with a robot is compliant with the rules and that does not stop them from competing.

F11. If multiple robots must run on the course at the same time, will all teams have the same number of robots on the course?
Yes. Every attempt will be made to have the same number of robots on the course for every competing team. We do plan on staggering the starts for logistical reasons, so it is possible someone might start or end a run with only one robot on the course. For Level 2, this is one of the reasons we will allow teams some control over choosing their competition order/time.

F10. Will the samples be placed on a table or buried in the ground?
No. The best effort will be made to have all samples placed on the surface of the course. Absolutely none will be buried or in water. In some cases, like with the tennis ball, it may be raised very slightly or contained in order to prevent it from rolling far from its location. An example would be placing a small rubber O-ring under the ball for it to sit on, so it is not sitting directly on the ground but extremely close to the surface.

F9. Will people be allowed within view of the robot’s sensors?
There will be no spectators inside the boundaries of the course or within 2 meters of the marked boundary (orange fence) of the course. The only people allowed on the course will be event officials and only as they are absolutely necessary. In all cases, event officials will be wearing a defined uniform that all competitors will know in advance to help them distinguish event officials from other objects on the course.

F8. How will an event official know when to turn on my robot and Home Beacon, respectively?
Just like you need to provide clear instructions for how the event official removes the securing straps from your robot, you should provide clear instructions for the order you would like your robot and Home Beacon turned on. To the best of their abilities, the event officials will follow your instructions on which one to trigger first ONLY. Do not expect them to follow more detailed instructions (for example, “turn on my robot EXACTLY 10 seconds after turning on the Home Beacon”). Your event clock starts when they turn the robot power on.

F7. What kind of surfaces can we expect to encounter on the course?
You can expect to encounter firm ground and a variety of walkable surfaces. This would include pavement, packed dirt, short grass, and possibly traversable rocks (i.e. gravel). You are not expected to move through loose mediums like sand, travel through water, or negotiate tall grass.

F6. Is the robot allowed to climb “immovable obstacles” on the terrain?
Yes. However, be aware of R5 if these behaviors have the potential to severely damage the obstacle.

F5. Can you provide more information of the exact nature of known samples or obstacles on the course?
Yes. While we are not suggesting you should purchase the items from the following retailers or this is the only place from which they can be purchased, below are links to the actual items referenced in the rules:

  • Orange Warning Fence (Field Boundary) – Please note we are showing this as a sample for anyone who may not know what we are describing. We will be seeking donors of this since there is a lot to purchase, so we may not know the final brand until we secure this. If what we end up getting for use is not available in retail quantities, we will do our best to get a sample to each team:
  • Pink Tennis Ball (Easy Sample): http://amzn.com/B0010FW782
  • Soft Shot Hockey Puck (Easy Sample): http://amzn.com/B00017IBT4

F4. Will we have access to the samples once we arrive on-site?
Yes and no. Teams will be given some access to samples in the robot pit area with the following restrictions. For the Easy samples, all teams will have access to see, feel, touch, and calibrate to the actual samples we will use. For the Intermediate samples, all teams will have access to view the samples from a distance of approximately 15 meters in a controlled area. No teams will have any access to the hard samples until they identify them on the course.

F3. Will all the samples be on the course for Level 1?
No. The Level 1 course contains only the pre-cached sample.

F2. Will false samples be placed on the field?
No. We will not intentionally place any false samples on the field of play. For example, we would not place an out-of-spec tennis ball on the course of play and we will scan the entire course for debris that could potentially be misinterpreted as a sample prior to the start of the challenge attempts. However, if your robot collects an item that it though was a sample that isn’t, it will count towards your non-sample mass.

F1. Can you example in more detail how the prize money could be distributed?

For Level 1:

  • All teams who successfully complete Level 1 will split $50,000, with a maximum of $5,000 per team.
  • Prize money distributed in Level 1 becomes unavailable to be distributed for Level 2 prizes (i.e. they come from the same pool of $1.5M).

For Level 2:

  1. The top 3 scoring teams will be determined by adding up the points associated with their collected samples. A minimum of 3 points must be scored.
  2. The total amount of prize money available to be distributed will be determined based on the 1st place performer.
  3. The judges will add the score of the top teams together.
  4. Starting with 3rd place, divide the 3rd place score by the total points to get a percentage of the prize money 3rd place will receive. That percentage is then multiplied
  5. by the prize money available. If the amount is higher than the max set by their point level, they are given that maximum amount.
  6. Repeat steps 3-4 until all 3 teams have been awarded money.

Below are some specific examples.

Example 1:
– The top three teams score 10, 9, and 5 points respectively. Since the first place team scored 10 points, the total available to be distributed is $750,000 (see P7).
– 10+9+5 = 24 total points
– 5 pts divided by 24 total pts = 20.8%
– 20.8% of $750K = $156K However, the maximum that can be earned by someone who scores only 5 points, is $100K (see p7), so the third place team receives $100K.
– For second place, 10+9=19. 9/19 = 47.4%. 47.4% of $650K is $308,100. Since the maximum a team can earn by scoring 9 points is $750K, they receive their determined amount of $308,100.
– For first place, $650K-$308,100 = $341,900. Again, since the maximum that can be earned by someone scoring 10 points is $750K, they receive all of their $341,900.

Example 2:
– The top three teams score 8, 4, and 3 points respectively. Since the first place team scored 8 points, the total available to be distributed is $250,000 (see P7).
– 8+4+3 = 15 total points
– 3 pts divided by 15 total pts = 20.0%
– 20.0% of $250K = $50,000 Maximum for 3 points is $100K so they can receive the full $50,000.
– For second place, 8+4=12. 4/12 = 33.3%. 33.3% of $200K is $66,600. Since the maximum a team can earn by scoring 4 points is $100K, they receive their determined amount of $66,000.
– For first place, $200K-$66,600 = $133,400.

Example 3:
– The top 2 teams score 3 and 5 points. No other teams score points in Level 2. Since the first place team scored 5 points, $100,000 is available to be distributed.
– 3+5 = 8 … 3/8 = 37.5% … 37.5% of $100K is $37,500. The second place team will win this.
– First place team will win $100,000 – $37,500 = $62,500.

Example 4:
– Only one team successfully completes Level 2 and they score 7 points. They will win $250,000.