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Robotics Team "Hungry Hungry Hippos" Chews Up the Competition


The Experiential Learning Center hosted the second semi-annual robotics competition on March 26, 2021, with six finalist teams competing for the $500 grand prize.

The competition premise centered around a wolf-infested sheep pasture. In order to win, competitors needed to build the robot that would remove the most wolves (black ping-pong balls) from the cardboard-box pasture in sixty seconds while taking the fewest sheep (white ping-pong balls) with them.

Sixteen teams began building their bots in January, and eight competed in the qualification rounds during the week leading up to the competition. Although only the top five would normally qualify for finals, the top six teams carried such close scores that they all made the cut: The Hungry Hungry Hippos, Bob Saget Dynamics, Team Wolves, Team Awesome, Zybatronics, and the Shockers.

In the final competition, each team had three rounds to put their robot to the test. They earned points for capturing wolves and suffered penalties for capturing sheep or interfering with the bot, and they each took the maximum score of their three rounds.

In first place came The Hungry Hungry Hippos, a composite of members from two of last semester’s finalists: the Maize Runners and Camachobots. Their bot used a combine to pull every ball in its path into its cabin, where it used robotic vision to determine which were black and which were white. It then sent the balls down five lanes with trap doors at the end. If it detected a black ball, the trap doors would open and capture the ball in a compartment; otherwise, they remained shut, and the white balls slid back into the pasture.

There were hiccups. Sometimes the trap doors would jam (“the hippo has indigestion,” a viewer said); sometimes they caught sheep alongside the wolves. But the team blew the competition out of the water and took home 78 points in their first round.

Bob Saget Dynamics stole second place with 66 points. Their robot used a belt system inspired by one team member’s observations at a potato processing plant. As it cycled through the balls, the slightly-smaller white ones fell back into the pasture through gaps in the belt while it pushed the black ones into a rear compartment. They 3-D printed a new part for their robot the night before the final that increased their bot’s radius and improved their score.

Team Wolves also used size-based sorting, but added an extra compartment to stow the captured white balls so they wouldn’t get in the way later. Their robot experienced a small fire the day before, but they overcame and captured third place with 64 points.

Zybatronics and Team Awesome tied for fourth with 61 points each. Zybatronics had the speediest robot, and Team Awesome used an overhead camera to help their robot specifically hunt down the higher concentrations of wolves in the pasture.

Although the Shockers came in sixth, they had the best individual detection and were the only team to finish rounds without a single penalty.