The recruitment period is over. The competitors have been selected. Let the games begin!
Vying for top honors in the VMAC will be two teams from Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Ga.; one group from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M.; and an international squad from the University of Zagreb, Croatia. They will use off-the-shelf computer gaming engines to run simulations of a robot picking up boxes of various sizes and weights from a conveyor belt and then arranging them on a pallet for shipping. There will be several rounds in the virtual reality competition, beginning with basic scenarios and adding complexity to the tasks as the rounds progress. Successful simulations will then be run for real using Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to deliver packages in a one-third scale factory environment. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced that 11 university teams will square off next week in two contests designed to prove the viability of advanced technologies for robotic manufacturing automation and microrobotics. The Virtual Manufacturing Automation Competition (VMAC) and the Mobile Microrobotics Challenge (MMC) are both part of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Anchorage, Alaska, from May 2-6, 2010.
Seven teams will compete in the MMC: Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.; ETH, a science and technology university in Zürich, Switzerland; the French Team (a group consisting of researchers from the FEMTO-ST Institute and the Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et de Robotique, or ISIR), Paris, France; Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J.; the University of Maryland, College Park, Md.; the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; and the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md. Their tiny robots—whose dimensions are measured in micrometers (millionths of a meter)—will be pitted against each other in three tests: a two-millimeter dash in which the microbots sprint across a distance equal to the diameter of a pin head; a microassembly task where pegs must be inserted into designated holes; and a freestyle competition where each team chooses a task for its robot that emphasizes one or more abilities from among system reliability, level of autonomy, power management and task complexity.
NIST is conducting the VMAC in cooperation with IEEE and Georgia Tech, and collaborating on the MMC with the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. The partners are hosting these two competitions to "road test" many of the skills that future industrial robots—both full-size and miniature—will need to carry out their functions.
For more information, see "Manufacturing Competition Challenges University Teams to Stack a Better Pallet," NIST Tech Beat, Jan. 26, 2010 and "Is Your Microrobot Up for the (NIST) Challenge?" NIST Tech Beat, Oct. 20, 2009.
For more details on the Mobile Microrobotics Challenge, including profiles of the seven miniscule contestants, a closer look at the world's smallest sports arena and descriptions of the three competitions, go to 2010 NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge.