Student robotics competition on December 5 features 'Ender's Game' theme

Public invited to watch droids built by student teams compete in "Slugs vs. Bugs" challenge

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Robotic "army droids" built by UC Santa Cruz engineering students will face off in battle, maneuvering through a "battle room" and firing ping-pong balls at each other, in a free public demonstration on Thursday, December 5, at 8:15 p.m. in the Baskin Engineering Auditorium (Room 101) on the UCSC campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The competition is the final project for students in the Introduction to Mechatronics class taught by Gabriel Elkaim, 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.

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 "Slugs vs. Bugs" and is based on a scenario derived from the science fiction book (and recently released movie) "Ender's Game."

The task requires students to build droids that will simulate the Battle Room fights between training armies at the Battle School. The winning "army" or droid will have to navigate through the Battle Room, avoid obstacles, and make it out the gate on the other side of the room before the opposing army does, while firing and dodging ping-pong ball "laser blasts." The tournament will be run in double elimination fashion until just one robot remains undefeated.