Other: TNO’s Robot Competition


TNO’s robot competition


TNO’s Robot Competition Edition 1 (1999)

Wednesday, December 15, 1999. Four lime lines in the parking lot of TNO-FEL mark a maze of gas concrete blocks. The white obstacles are full of rainwater and slowly turn grey. Fifty tense-looking employees follow the operations of six self-built robots designed and built by five TNO-FEL teams in their own free time. Each team received DFL 5,000, – for material costs. The assignment was to design and build a robot according to certain rules in five months that would be able to autonomously navigate on a playing field with obstacles.
The competition field had a size of 30 by 8 metres with the rough asphalt of TNO’s parking lot underneath. The obstacles consisted of plaster blocks, a wooden slope (up and down), and sandboxes filled with five centimetres of sand. The playing field was bounded by white lines that should not be passed by the robots. The winner would be the robot that would either reach an endpoint marked by a metal plate and an incandescent lamp or would have covered the largest distance within a ten-minute period. The difficulty of the assignment was evident from the fact that none of the robots succeeded in reaching the endpoint. The winner was the robot that came furthest: TurboTurtle. The enthusiasm was no less. A tradition was born. In 2000, the second robot competition would be open to all TNO institutes.

TurboTurtle (1999) with an papier mache 'all-weather turtle-protection-shield
TurboTurtle (1999) with a papier mache ‘all-weather turtle-protection-shield


Giraffe (1999)
Giraffe (1999)


Mirror providing a 360 graden view to the Giraffe
Mirror providing a 360 degree view to the Giraffe


Camera view by the Giraffe robot
Camera view by the Giraffe robot

TNO’s Robot Competition Edition 2 (2000)

Smart algorithms, all kinds of sensors and TNO blue Lego blocks: ingredients for the second Robot Competition on Saturday 7 October 2000. Twelve teams from five TNO institutes competed for the honour. In addition, a team sponsored by High Tech Automation competed out of the competition. The TurboTurtle team consisted of employees of the FEL-TNO radar group who were responsible for the drive (a solid tank chassis) and electro-optic colleagues who focused on the sensors and the simple algorithms. Their two Simplemans and TurboTurtle robots were built from technical Lego with a Mindstorm computer as memory and a few extra sensors (compass, a light sensor for lines). In a similar multidisciplinary way, the other teams built their robot.

In total, about 300 people attended the weather and the antics of the robots.

“Can someone save the thing from his sufferings?” Battery, battery, battery!” “There is no intelligence! “He wants to go back to his owner!” While the spectators enjoy themselves, the robots have a lot of trouble due to the beautiful weather. “It is the sun, is not it?” “Everyone had doubts”, a spectator is mumbling when robot Synops seems to be locked up in calculation mode. Then hopeful: “A fantastic cloud is coming!” Giraffe II cannot understand that shiny asphalt is not white but black. “He is doubting between left and right and cannot decide”, his boss calls out desperately.

Robot formula Gnuif alias lgor of TNO-TPD is not in the mood. The robot leaves the playing field at full force after the starting shot, which is the reason for the team leader to plea for applying different rules for first-time participants. Most robots that year could not see the white lines and sometimes immediately went out of the field, or else shortly afterwards.
The main prize went to the TurboTurle 2000, the creativity prize was won by Apollo 19 of TNO Industry, and the bad luck prize went to Roadrunner II. The five best performances in terms of distance travelled were delivered by four robots from the TNO Waalsdorp: TurboTurtle, Giraffe II, FerroFinder II, and Joy-Rider.

TurboTurtle (2000)
TurboTurtle (2000)


TNO’s Robot Competition Edition 3 (2002)

On Saturday, June 1, 2002, the third robot competition was held. The competition was open to universities, technical colleges, and knowledge institutes. The contest rules were completely revised. For example, the white lines on the asphalt had disappeared and the robots had to complete a number of ‘missions’. The 2002 event in a radiant sun attracted about 300 spectators. Dutch TV made recordings of the robot competition.
Twelve robot teams participated: five teams from TNO-FEL, five teams from TNO-TPD, a team from TNO Road Transport, and a team from TNO Industry.

Turboturtle (2002)
TurboTurtle (2002)

The contest rules were:

    • The robot
      • The robot is a mechanically propelled autonomous platform that uses the elements ‘perception’, ‘thinking’ and ‘acting’ that are linked to each other. This means the presence of sensors, actuators and (some) intelligence.
      • The robot must fit in a square of 60 by 60 cm (measured in the perpendicular projection of the robot on the horizontal plane). The height of the robot is undetermined.
      • The robot is not connected to the outside world via cables.
      • The robot may be wirelessly connected to hardware set up elsewhere (e.g. a Personal Computer).
      • The robot must not pose a danger to the spectators standing around the playing field.
      • It is permitted to use beacons arranged outside the total playing field. Ten minutes before the start of the robot in question, the opportunity is given for installing such beacons.
      • There are more missions carried out by the robot, whereby the robot is activated by one of the team members at the beginning of each mission.
      • Activation of the robot takes place after the starting shot by the jury.
      • Human interaction after ‘activation’ is not allowed: the robot will have to accomplish its mission autonomously.
    • The competition field
      • The competition field is located in the parking lot of TNO-FEL.
      • The competition field has a total length of 20 metres and a width of 6 metres.
      • The playing field is bounded by an upright fence (unpainted ‘underlayment’, comparable to coarse chipboard) of about 20 cm.
      • The playing field is subdivided into five mission fields of 4 × 6 metres, each with its own starting point.
    • The missions
      • Mission 1 is called ‘Escape’. The assignment consists of finding the exit by traversing the mission field while avoiding a number of obstacles. The underground is the asphalt of the parking lot, the obstacles are gas concrete blocks, the exit is located somewhere on the opposite side of the starting point. The gas concrete blocks have dimensions of 60 x 40 x 10 cm. These blocks are standard blocks used in building construction.
      • Mission 2 is called ‘Robosport’. The assignment consists of searching and making physical contact with a football (a standard football size 5, colour yellow). The ground is a field of grass.
      • Mission 3 is called ‘Desert’. The assignment consists of finding the oasis. The surface is a layer of sand with a thickness of about 3 cm. The oasis is a container (dimensions 60 x 60 x 3 cm) completely filled with water so that the water surface is at the ‘ground level’. The robot may not ride or fall into the water but must stop within 30 cm of the edge of the water basin. By means of a signal (optical, acoustic or otherwise) it must signal that the assignment has been completed.
      • Mission 4 is called ‘Rescue Action’. The assignment is to ‘save’ a metal cube with a side of 10 cm. The cube is equipped with red and green LEDs. The assignment is complete when the cube is moved by the robot at least 50 cm. The underground is the asphalt of the parking lot.
      • Mission 5 is called ‘Abyss’. The assignment is to cover a route with a length of about five metres over boards that are ten centimetres above the asphalt. The route consists of straight sections each of a maximum of one meter long that are connected to each other at an angle of up to 30 degrees in the horizontal plane. The endpoint is an obstacle of twenty centimetres in height. The planks and the endpoint consist of unpainted ‘underlayment’, comparable to coarse chipboard.

      A team must select at least three missions. Mission 1 is mandatory. Four or five missions may also be selected.

    • The match
      • The teams must take into account various weather conditions. If the weather forecast two days before the planned date is so bad in the opinion of the jury, that pursuing the match is undesirable (e.g. storm + rain showers), the match will be rescheduled for a week.
      • The robot must perform the selected missions within 3 minutes per mission, with each successful mission yielding a number of points.
      • The order of execution is consecutively from mission 1 to mission 5, with the unselected missions being skipped by the robot.
      • A starting point for a mission consists of a fixed, unmarked position on the short side of a mission field and is indicated by the jury.
      • With equal points, the jury determines the winner on the basis of the number of successful missions.
      • The winning team will receive the first prize.
      • There is also a starter prize for the winning team in the starters category that consists of the teams that are participating for the first time.
      • The most original/creative robot is rewarded with a special prize.
      • In the competition, the participants start according to a schedule drawn up by the jury. The schedule will be communicated just before the match.
      • If a start fails due to a breakdown, one (1) restart is permitted per mission.
      • If the integrity of the course is no longer intact due to the robot (e.g. turning over obstacles) 5 points are deducted each time.
      • More robots can be active on different mission fields at the same time; only one robot is present per mission field.
      • A successful mission provides 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 points respectively for missions 1 through 5.

      IQ Nullius of TNO Industry won the first prize. TNO-TPD’s Herman needs a bit more time for the same three successful missions and won the starter’s prize. The originality prize went to TNO-TPD’s Piet Heyn: The team managed to complete two missions with a robot costing only NLG 312,19. The Roadrunner of TNO-FEL received the bad luck prize.

      Final results 2002
      Final results 2002


      The TNO Robot competition trophy
      The TNO Robot Competition Trophy


      Roadrunner III

      Commentary by the winning TNO Industry team:

      We opted for a robust cart rigged with various sensors such as distance sensors based on ultrasound, bumper, electronic compass, and measurement of the driven distance. All this is controlled by a normal PC that is mounted upside down on the chassis. We deliberately refrained from using sensors that work optically given the highly variable lighting conditions in the open air. When it was our turn for the first assignment to get through the maze, the team was full of tension. Sure enough, our IQ Nullius went with their nickname ‘lsaak’ between the obstacles by manoeuvring to the exit on the other side of the playing field. Isaak halted a small metre before the exit and did not want to continue driving. Shit! But you were not allowed to intervene. So there was nothing left to acknowledge that this assignment was not met. The robosport mission in which a football had to be found and touched on the lawn was done in no time. In the desert mission, where the robots have to track down an oasis (pond) in a sandy plain, we did not manage to achieve while during the tests we did so well. It probably had something to do with the compass. Fortunately, the following assignments for lsaak were a piece of cake. The rescue mission in which a metal cube had to be shifted by more than 50 cm was accomplished by dragging the cube at least half the field. And driving over an elevated platform without driving off turned out to be no problem for our intelligent robot. Who’s the winner? The robot Herman of the TPD collected as many points as Isaac. However, it turned out that two of the three assignments were completed faster by our robot than the one of our competitor. Isaak was, therefore, declared the winner. It was funny to see that Isaak had as many points as all five TNO-FEL robots together!

      An MPEG movie of the IQ Nullius ‘Isaak’ can be found here.


TNO’s Robot Competition Edition 4 (2003)

For the fourth robot competition, more than 500 spectators were found around the five mission fields on November 22, 2003. No less than nineteen teams competed for the honour, including five teams from private industry and a team of students. Both the press, radio and television had a lot of attention for the TNO Robot Competition, although there was competition from the LEGO robot competition, which was held 100 meters away.
The starter price was for Quippie, a robot from lmtech JCT iQuipware. The many evening and weekend hours of the six team members paid off in four successful missions, including the fastest time for a mission. Around 1 of TNO Industrie earned the originality prize. Not only did the robot stand out because of its professional-looking design, but it also used only one intelligent sensor that did its work very effectively and innovatively. The bad luck was for Dirty by TNO Telecom. Dirty’s webcam, which was stolen some days before the game, was such a crucial component that it was necessary to refrain from participating in two of the five missions.
The greatest dose of perseverance and creativity was demonstrated by IQ-Nullius of TNO Industry: the robot passed all missions and with two fastest mission completions the team received the first prize for the second time in a row. The team typified their robot affectionately and confidently as ‘the Schwarzenegger among the robots‘.

Results of the TNO robot competition 2003
Results of the TNO Robot Competition 2003


TNO’s Robot Competition Edition 5 (2004)

Five missions again. The substrates were asphalt, grass and sand (and water). Existing teams had a reduced budget, as a result of which, for example, the TurboTurtle (tank chassis, Lego, 386 computer, cameras) was stuck to a tank chassis that problematically could master grass and sand. Despite cameras with which the 21.5 cm ball could be distinguished from knots in the wood. In many tests with grass, the substrate turned out to be slightly different each time. The sand was too difficult. TurboTurtle only succeeded in one mission.
Below are some pictures of the fifth robot competition that was held at TNO Road Transport in Delft.

Follow-on competitions have become completely open with complex missions such as saving a puppet.

Mission 1
Mission 1 “”Escape”


Mission 5
Mission 5 “Abyss”


A robot in action in Mission 1


A robot in action at the Robosport Mission
A robot in action at the Robosport Mission


IQ-Nullius (2004)
IQ-Nullius (2004)


One of the other participating robots
One of the other participating robots