SAR-Bot Exercise/Contest at Propeller Powered Expo ’14 (deja vue!)

Once again, I have been asked to run another robot contest for OPPE ’14 (guess I must have done something that people liked.)  At the end of the ’13 expo, I briefly talked with Jeff (the proprietor of Propeller Powered and founder of the Propeller Expos) about ideas for next year.  Well, it looks like we will be running a Search-and-Rescue Robot (SAR-Bot) contest.  Only, this time, to interest others, such as the Emergency Responders and medics in our area, we will be running the contest as an Emergency Preparedness Exercise. (I have always been interested in Emergency Response – even earned my Pennsylvania certification as an EMT.)

Also, in order to help build interest, we will be sending a press release to local press, schools and emergency preparedness organizations, inviting them to come see the future of Rescue Technology.

Well, with this upcoming Expo hosting the SARbot ’14 Exercise, I wanted to get an early head start.

Come on down to the contest site at and see what’s going on.  The discussion thread for this coming exercise/contest can be found at:  We would like a lot of feed back, including any ideas, that you may have, for making this a great exercise.

Edited on 16 Oct 2013: We used to have a picture of one of the houses used by Trinity College’s contest, however we received the following demand to remove the picture:

Dear Mr. Granzeier III:

Jessica Jones forwarded your note to me regarding your “borrowing” a copyrighted photo from our website,  Since you did not receive permission in advance to use this photo, it is necessary to remove it from your website immediately.  As an institution, Trinity College is adamant about protecting its copyrighted materials.

In the future, please be sure to ask before using copyrighted material.

David Ahlgren
Contest Director

Therefore, the picture has been removed.  I will post another picture of my own later.

I am envisioning a small “house” made out of plywood with some rooms and maybe a hallway, or two.  However, this house will have a door (doorway?) so that the robot can get in.  In front of the door will (may?) be some bricks and/or other debris.  The robot will need to get around/past/over/through the debris and into the house.  Inside the house, somewhere, will be a baby as the victim.  The baby will have the general shape and size of a human baby for visually-oriented SARbots.  In addition, I am looking into a heating element to keep the baby’s temperature at about human-normal, for thermal-oriented SARbots.  If things work as planned, the baby will also cry for audio-oriented SARbots (my new grand-baby should be born next January; lots of opportunity to get MP3s of a real baby crying to play for the exercise/contest. :P)

In addition, for the visitors who are more emergency/medically oriented than electronics: we will want some medical-/emergency-oriented devices, (since this is for the Propeller Powered Expo) based on the Parallax Propeller (, of course. The Prop can certainly handle that kind of stuff.

Let’s fire up the old irons, and dev kits, and put together some prototypes (and even some finished products to show – and sell. ;D)

Re: Robot Contest(s) at PropellerPowered Expo ’13

Well, it was a long weekend; but it was great.

Here are the results of the two robot contests:

Line Follower –
– In first place, with a best time of 9.7 seconds, was Toadblue, owned by Roger Goff
– In second place, with a best time of 18.2 seconds, was Thing1, owned by Chris and Abby Wardell
– In third place, with a best time of 46.4 seconds, was S2, also owned by Roger Goff

Sumo –
– In first place, with 2 wins and 1 loss, was Thing1, owned by Chris and Abby Wardell
– In second place, with 1 win and 2 losses, was Thing2, owned by Chris and Abby Wardell

Congrats to all of our entrants, and thank you for a most entertaining contest.

For the trivia collector: Chris and Abby’s robots were named after Thing1 and Thing2 from the Cat in the Hat (  Thank you Abby for those imaginative names.

There are several photos (and a video of the Sumo contests) posted in the Official thread (  I have also posted the results of each contest in it’s respective page.
We are already working on the OPPE’14 Robotics Contest(s) – Note: we have been having extreme weather all of this past summer, of 2014.  Eastern Ohio has experienced record amounts of heavy rainfall, and flooding, since early spring ’14, and there have been numerous thunderstorms, microbursts and even several tornadoes sighted in the Orrville area.  I have heard rumors that the Mayor of Orrville is worried that buildings may collapse from the ground being weakened due to being saturated from all the rain.  Jeff, from PropellerPowered has been asked to prepare a team of SAR-Bots (Search-And-Rescue Robots) in case of any major damage.  Stay tuned to OPPE News for further details as they develop.

Robot Contest PPE’13 Update – New Sumo Contest

Well, I’ve updated my Line Follower Contest Page (  In addition, we have added a Sumo Contest to PropellerPowered Expo ’13.  You can find the Project Page for that contest here:  There are several prizes for the winners of these events.

These should make for some pretty entertaining events at the PropellerPowered Expo (  We always have a lot of fun at these Propeller Events and this year should be bigger and better than ever!  Jeff (Old Bit Collector on the forums,) has put a lot of time and effort into these and it shows.  You have heard me talk about these events earlier, but I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Jeff for all of his time and effort.  He has also been a friend and mentor to me in helping me with my business (plus I intend to pick his brain more at this year’s event too. 😉 )

Line Follower Contest – PPE’13

I volunteered to set up a robot contest, or two, for the Official PropellerPowered Expo ( coming up this summer.  The expo is an event that I have been attending for several years and I really enjoy it.  If you live anywhere within range of Wooster, OH (about central-eastern Ohio,) you would probably really enjoy it.  I wanted to put some of these ideas out for any of my other readers, for comments.

My first thought was to have a “There-And-Back” contest (modelled after ChiBot’s TableTop Contest –  This is a really simple contest and would be great for absolute beginners.  One of my projects, from a few year ago, was to write the manual for the ChiBot’s TableTop ‘Bot, made by Eddie Wright ( – I believe that it has reached End-Of-Life and is no longer being sold, however check out his other products.)  However, this type of contest may be too simple.  We will see whether, or not, we decide to do this.

Secondly, it seems like everyone enjoys watching others bashing their heads together (just think about all of us who like football ;) .)  So, I was thinking that a mini-sumo contest may be nice; let the robots do the bashing. :P  [Mindrobots], from the PropellerPowered forum has offered to bring in a mini-sumo ring for this type of contest.  As soon as he is able to get me the specifics of his ring, we should be able to put up a page about that contest.

Third, I wanted something that could show a bit of brain-power.  Maybe a line-follower, or a wall-hugger, contest?  We will be taping together several pieces of poster-board, or foam-core board.  Then, we will put some black electrical tape down for the actual course. We now have a Page ( set up for this event.


Robot Contests

The Unofficial Propeller Expo – NorthEast (now called the PropellerPowered Expo – NorthEast – is coming up fast!  When registration opens, you can register at:  My son, Peter, and I have attended nearly every one of these (missed the first one, sniff) and have even made one of the Chicago expos.

This year, I am planning on bringing the materials to build a TableTop ‘Bot course for a There-And-Back contest.  Several years ago, I wrote the construction manual for the TableTop ‘Bot manufactured and sold by Eddy Wright ( for the Chicago Area Robotics Group (  This robot was designed to allow a beginner to easily get involved in robotics, and to compete in a simple contest, called the There-And-Back contest.  The basic idea of this contest is for a robot to start at one end of a course, navigate it’s way down the course to the other end, and then back to the starting point.  I put up a page with the basic description and rules at: I’m hoping for some fun at the PPE-NE this summer.

Take a look, and let me know what you think.

Boy Scout’s Robotics Merit Badge – A Low-Cost ‘Bot

Here is an idea, which may help with anyone wanting to offer a class for Boy Scouts to work on earning their Robotics Merit Badge (

A few years ago, a guy named Steve from the ChiBots Mailing List ( asked for help in setting up a robotics class for kids.  The catch was that he was limited to a budget of only $8.00 per kid.  This is awfully low for a ‘bot for each kid in the class, however it did get me thinking about an extremely low-cost ‘bot for classes on robotics.  You can see the reply that I sent to him to help with his class at:

With all the interest in the new Boy Scout’s Robotics Merit Badge, I have revisited that low-cost ‘bot and have updated it with today’s prices:

Here is the updated parts list – notice that some of the parts have been replaced because they are no longer available, and most of the ones that are available have higher prices:

Desc Jameco P/N


Price For 1 Total Price
24 MHZ PDIP IND TEMP 5.0V Atmel ATTiny13 765345


$2.29 $21.90
IC, 74LS244, Octal TRI-STATE Buffers, As A Motor Driver 1341966


$0.65 $5.50
Dual General-Purpose IC PC Board (Use Radio Shack product) 276-159 (R/S Part #)


$2.19 $21.90
SOCKET,IC,8 PIN,1-390261-2,
.300″,DUAL,LADDER,P/B,TIN (10)


$1.30 / 10 $1.30
SOCKET,IC,20 PIN, .300″ (10) 526221


$1.60 / 10 $1.60
MOTOR,DC,1.5-3.0 V,0.17A 154915


$2.50 / 2 $21.80


$0.29 $2.60


$0.29 $2.50
CAP, RADIAL, 10%, 10μF,  29891


$0.60 / 10 $1.20
BASCOM AVR (Trial Version) N/A


$0.00 $0.00


$11.71 $80.30

Total price per ‘bot (in quantities of 10) = $8.03 + Shipping & Handling

You must order 10 ‘bots at a time to get these prices.  The original price for 1 “kit” was $7.50+S/H and with inflation has only gone up to $11.71, still extremely respectable.  There are a couple of items which loose their quantity discount with 1 kit, and the IC sockets and .01uF caps only come in quantities of 10 (the original price of $9.94 price for a single ‘bot included extra IC sockets and capacitors).  Wiring for connecting the components can be about a foot of old cat-5 per kid, they will get enough wire to totally hook up their bots with that little bit.

Here is a simple schematic for a ‘bot which can maneuver and even sense it’s surroundings.

The Schematic – Use the capacitors in the parts list for bypass caps across the +V and Gnd of the two ICs.

You will use both PB0 and PB1 together to drive the left motor (PB0 high and PB1 low to turn the motor one way and PB0 low and PB1 high to turn the motor the opposite way.)  Likewise, you will also use PB2 and PB3 together to drive the right motor.

With the small size of the Tiny13, you only have one remaining pin for sensors.  A trick that I came across long ago is that you can use a R/2R resistor ladder combined with the A/D input on PB4 to allow up to 4 bump sensors (theoretically you can get more, but four is about the limit due to the tolerances of resistors)  You will need to play with the numbers that your A/D input provides for each button press.

You can use the A/D capabilities of the Tiny13 to read up to four seperate digital inputs.

If you do not need your bot’s motors to be reversible, you can drop two of the motor control outputs and use them for other inputs or outputs (perhaps an LED for looks?)  Some or all of the four pushbutton switches could be replaced with photo sensors to provide the ability to program in light sensing (phototrope –, such as a photophobe [light avoider] or photovore [light follower]) or maybe two of the sensors facing down to allow a simple line-follower.  In spite of the simplicity of this robot, you can actually do some pretty cool things.

To this kit, you will need to add something like 2 round rubber pencil erasers, 2 short pieces of hot-glue sticks or just dip the motor shafts in a liquid rubber stuff to use as the wheels/tires, and then somehow mount the motors angled down so that the wheels touch the ground (see the Cybugs wheels at: for further information about that – I’m not related to JCM, just like their ideas).  You will also need at least 1 programmer to download the programs into the ’13.  Eddy Wright has USB ( and Parallel Port ( programmers for under $15.00; I have been a friend of Eddy’s for years and he has great deals – especially for stuff that I do not carry in my store 😉

This is the best that I could think of and give each kid a ‘bot of their own.  And, really you need more for anything beyond the most basic (however, this can do things like the TableTop contest from Chibots –  You can fashion bumper switches out of paper clips, and other junk can be interfaced (tell the kids that they get a reward for bringing in electronic junk – maybe a certificate or candy or something).  That will get you at least some LEDs and maybe some other stuff that can be useful in your CBs (cheap bots).

Go to the BSA’s Scouting Store and pick up a copy of the Merit Badge Pamphlet (BSA Supply No.: 35972 –  It has a lot of good information for helping kids to learn about robotics.

Also, I am nearing completion of my new ULC-Bot (Ultra Low-Cost Bot) and will be putting this up in my store soon (I need to complete the experiments in the manual.)  This will include a complete introduction text with step-by-step instructions to get a beginner up and running.  My target price is about $25.00 to $30.00, and it looks like I may be able to meet that goal.  Check back for updates on the ULC-Bot.

And now, the small print: Be aware that this is still just an IDEA.  I have not actually breadboarded this circuit yet.  That said, I do have over thirty years of computer/electronics design experience and this should work.  I will breadboard this sometime pretty soon and write up some more material for the project.  In the mean time, I would appreciate hearing from anyone who takes this idea and runs with it…  How did the class go?  Was everyone able to get their ‘bot running?  How long did it take? (I’m thinking a whole day class, or maybe two.)   Most importantly, how did the kids like the class and their robot?