Czech robots practise bowling for Eurobot 2005 contest

Dr David Obdrzalek, photo: Pavla Horakova

For the eighth year running, the Eurobot contest has been trying to combine science with fun. Small robots designed by national teams compete in performing certain given tasks, for example playing beach rugby. Czech teams have been taking part in this international amateur robotics contest since 2001 and this year the Czechs took two prizes. At the moment, the robots are busy training again for next year's national qualification and the May international final in Switzerland. Pavla Horakova went to the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics to talk to the "coach" of this year's winning robot, Dr David Obdrzalek, from the Department of Software Engineering. She asked him first to describe what the robots look like.

Dr David Obdrzalek, photo: Pavla Horakova
"It might be said it is a computer on wheels or a small box which is moving autonomously. It is nothing like a human robot that walks with strange moves. It's just a very small robot."

In next year's contest the robots will try bowling. What will it look like? Will they be playing in a bowling alley?

"No, of course not. In this contest, bowling means that the robots will be trying to lay down skittles which will be standing somewhere on the field. So that's where the 'bowling' comes from."

I believe it's not only about playing. These robots must have some practical applications, too...

"The main applications are in the fact that the people who are building the robots will learn how to operate such devices, how to build those devices and they become familiar with algorithms and other things which are necessary for building the robot."

Who is on the Czech team? Who are the people who build these robots?

"The Czech team which has been taking part in this contest for about four years so far comes from Charles University. It is formed by former students, now most of them have already graduated. But we are trying to attract more young people, more people from around the Czech Republic."

You took part in the contests in previous years - what was your greatest achievement?

"The highest position we acquired was fourth place this year in spring and also the Teams' Prize for our team. It is a prize which was awarded to us on the basis of votes given by the other teams. They decided that our robot was the best one."

How do you transport the robots? How big a lorry do you need to have?

"We don't need a big lorry at all. Because of the small size of the robot it can quite easily be taken by car or by bus. But also we need to take a lot of tools to be able to fix the robot and to adapt it to the special conditions during the contest itself. "

I can imagine the way professional bowlers train but what does robot training look like?

"It's nothing like human training, of course. Mostly it means a lot of time spent with the robot, building it and trying to find out how it should work and how it works and debugging your programmes and so on. A lot of work is computer-related work, programming, a lot of work is hardware - trying to build the robot so that it does the work, it moves and so on."

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