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Stealth and strategy are key in human-vs-robot competition

A group of people cheer while looking at a small robot vehicle on the floor.
Northwestern Engineering’s annual Design Competition draws hundreds of spectators to watch students and their robots compete for glory and cash prizes.

EVANSTON - Eleven autonomous robots each will attempt to outmaneuver the others to win at “Robot Hide-and-Seek” Saturday, May 13, as they and their student designers compete in the 26th annual Design Competition at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering

Free and open to the public, “Robot Hide-and-Seek” will start at noon at the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, 2133 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus. Hundreds of spectators attend every year to cheer on the competitors. (Evanston campus map.)

This year, the autonomous robot that can hide the longest wins. 

In each head-to-head round, one team commanding a remote-controlled vehicle will try to find the opposing team’s robot. The human driving the remote-controlled vehicle will don a virtual reality mask to hunt the hiding robot. When the human jousts a cup off the opposing robot, the time will be recorded, indicating the length of that robot’s ability to hide.

Spectators will be able to view the robot hunt, too. The human driver’s view will be projected on a large screen and displayed on spectators’ mobile devices.

Teams of undergraduates from a variety of engineering fields have spent five months designing, building and programming their robots. Some teams are fielding classic robot designs with bump and ultrasonic sensors; others are deploying state-of-the-art mecanum wheels and GPS-like position tracking.

The event is expected to last three hours, concluding with an awards ceremony. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three teams, with first place receiving $1,000.

One team also will be honored with the annual Myke Minbiole Elegant Engineering Award, named for McCormick alumnus Minbiole, who worked as an engineer until being killed in a hit-and-run collision in 2007. The Minbiole family will present the $500 award.

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