Even for a mini sumobot, Smiley seems small.
Small and sleek. At just 10-by-10 centimeters and around 500 grams, the baby-blue robot is propelled on red rubber wheels in quick, frenetic bursts.
Once Smiley turns on, it can be a bit hard to control. A length of blue wire runs from the back of the bot, acting as a tether of sorts.
“Smiley jumps off tables,” says Josh Houser, a robotics mentor with Fresno Ideaworks, which hosts Super Sumobot Saturdays, a free battle practice and tinker session for bot makers like himself. He built Smiley for the sumobot competitions the organization holds in April and October.
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Fresno Ideaworks operates a nonprofit maker space on Broadway Street in downtown. More info at fresnoideaworks.org
Along with Smiley, there’s Mortimer (a robust looking bot adorned with tiny pair of Mickey Mouse ears) and Tank Bot (built like its namesake, with 3-D printed tracked wheels), plus a number of stock robots created using Fresno Ideaworks mini sumobot kits.
The kits, which come complete with parts and directions, sell for $50. It’s a price that makes it a fairly accessible starting point. Commercial bot kits can cost $140 or more.
So far, the group has put 100 of these kits in the hands of makers.
The operation of these basic bots is pretty simple. Two sonar sensors on the front guide them toward their opponents. A second set of line sensors on the bottom read for the white line that serves as the boundary for the competition ring. The bots are programmed to stop or reverse when they hits that line.
When you put two bots in the ring, inevitably, they clash up. The one that pushes the other out, wins.
On Super Sumobot Saturdays, the winner is usually Smiley.
Of course, these bots – even suped-up ones like Smiley – probably won’t win any international championships. Yes, there are official competitions with specific bots classes. Mini bots like these can be no bigger than 10-by-10 centimeters and weigh no more than 500 grams, or 1.1 pounds. Everything else – down to the computer code that runs them – is designed to be messed with, says Matt Nelson, an Ideaworks member and robotics coach.
Want a faster robot?
“Find where it says motor speed and put a bigger number in there,” he says.
Smiley was built using the Ideadworks kit as a base.
Its baby-blue frame and wide-grinning face was created using a CAD program and Fresno Ideaworks 3-D printer. Flip it upside and you’ll see 1 grams weights that were added to give the robot more heft. Extra weight means more force in the ring.
That’s an engineering lesson for you, Houser says: “Mass times acceleration equals force.”
Smiley serves as an example of just what is possible with the technology, which is what Houser wants others, especially the children who regularly attend the Sumobot Saturdays, to take away.
“I want these guys to be confident enough to say, I can do this,” Houser says.
He’s talking about kids like Devin Cornell who built – and modified– a robot of his own.
It’s called the Devinbot 2000, and the nine-year-old is working to make it remote controlled. A tiny infrared eye stalk sticks up from the top of the bot. Devin has programed it to communicate with a remote be brought from home. One button engages both wheels forward, another turns the wheels back, so the bot can reverse. There are buttons to control just the left or right wheels, so the bot can turn.
It’s kids helping grown up and grown ups helping kids.
Scott Kramer, on the generational nature of Super Sumobot Saturdays
Devin hasn’t missed a Sumobot Saturday in several months. In fact, he recently skipped a friend’s birthday party – chose to skip it, according to his mother – just so he could come work on his robot.
His goal, is to beat Nelson’s Tank Bot.
The competition is just an entry point, says Scott Kramer, one of Ideawork’s founding board members. It’s an easy, accessible and fun way to further people’s interest in robots and technology, especially applied technologies, the so-called “Internet of Things,” Kramer says.
That term describes any network of physical devices embedded with software and sensors that are connected to collect and exchange data. The technology that drives these sumobots is an open-sourced hardware and software microcontroller called Arduino. With it, you can make a sumobot, sure. You could also make an automated cat-feeder that doles out a specific amount of food at a specific time of day, Kramer says.
“Sumobots is just a first step.”
Super Sumobot Saturdays
- 2 p.m. Saturdays
- Fresno Ideaworks, 1755 Broadway Ave.
- Free, robots kits are sold for $50
- 559-840-87490, fresnoideaworks.org