Navigating through a field of asteroid obstacles while firing ping-pong balls at the enemy are among the challenges facing robotic "starships" built by UC Santa Cruz engineering students. The student-made robots will face off in a free public demonstration on Wednesday, March 13, at 7 p.m. in the Baskin Engineering Auditorium (Room 101) on the UCSC campus.

The competition is the final project for students in the Introduction to Mechatronics class taught by Gabriel Elkaim, associate professor of computer engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering. Every year, Elkaim comes up with a different challenge for his students. The project gives students an opportunity to apply all the knowledge and skills they have learned in the class to solve an open-ended problem, he said.

The students work in teams to build a "droid" or robot that can operate autonomously, with no help from the students once the game starts. This year's competition is called "Slug Trek: Going Where No Slug Has Gone Before." The task requires the droids to navigate across a field, avoid asteroid obstacles, and get to the opposite gate, while shooting at the enemy with ping pong balls. The droids will run against each other on the field, and the competition is run in a round-robin format to determine which robot reigns supreme.

The public is invited, and the student teams will be on hand to explain their designs. Children are especially welcome.