ACS Team Finds Success in China

Griffin Muckley

While many high school students are content building simple skate ramps in their garage, or playing basic computer games, a group of BSM’s 14 finest Advanced Competitive Science (ACS) students travelled to China over the summer, and used their knowledge of engineering and computer programming to uphold BSM’s tradition or competing in the top level of RoboCup: a college level international robotics tournament.

Suzhou – China
The group of graduated seniors left July 11 along with ACS coordinator and teacher Mr. Jump and arrived in the city of Suzhou, approximately one hour out of Shanghai. For twelve days the team competed at the International Convention Center in Suzhou in a robotics competition called RoboCup.

There are multiple leagues in RoboCup, all of which have different challenges teams must complete. The BSM team competed in the RoboCupRescue Robot league. The challenge of this specific league is to create a robot that will enter a simulated rescue site approximately the size of a small house. The robot must then maneuver through designated obstacles, such as walls, stairs, and rubble, and find mannequins that give off signs of life, such as movement and heat. The purpose of the challenge is to map out the area, designate where victims are, and return the information that has been collected so that a rescue could theoretically be performed.

If someone were to merely look at the final scores, it may appear that the team did not do very well. “That is relative: comparatively [we did] not [do] that well…We blew out three motors preventing us from moving on to the next round.” In fact, the BSM team ended up in last place of the eighteen competitors.

These results, however, don’t necessarily tell of BSM’s actual success, because as Mr. Jump said the question is relative: “The fact that we are a high school team competing in this competition is outstanding…here are some of the top world development leaders, and we sit there as a high school team and they ask us questions…We come up with significant platforms that other people want to copy,” said Jump.

Indeed, BSM competes at the senior level, even though the team could qualify for the junior division, which is made up of high school students and college freshmen. Instead, BSM takes on the top engineering colleges from Germany, China, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and Iran. Not only is the team the only high school team, but “we are the only qualified U.S. team for the senior division of RoboCup,” said Mr. Jump.

Unfortunately, there were a number of issues that plagued the team from the moment they arrived: “There were so many unforeseen small technical errors when we arrived that we spent a lot of our time just concentrating on getting one thing done at a time. As a result, we never got to test drive the robot,” said team member Jack O’Reilly. The team was able to fix many of the smaller errors, but once the engines blew out, they were done.

Evolution of RoboCup and ACS
RoboCup started as a college level competition in 1997 with one challenge, RoboCupSoccer, a simulated robotic soccer matched that pinned robot-players against each other. As the tournament developed, more challenges were added, such as the rescue simulation RoboCupRescue, and the lower level league for high schools and young college organizations, RoboCupJunior.

The new leagues, such as RoboCupRescue, gave the highly advanced technologies entered in the tournament a real world application. Many of the highly advanced robotics showcased in RoboCup are looked at by companies for their applicability to real life rescue situations. Said Jack O’Reilly, “There were universities and for-profit businesses from all over the world there.”

BSM has been competing in RoboCup tournaments since 2004 and has done notably well, finishing tenth in the world only three years ago. In fact, because of BSM’s outstanding results in past tournaments, all that is required of BSM is a technical research paper to qualify for the world tournament; BSM no longer is required to win a qualifying preliminary tournament. “We’re one of the automatics,” said Mr. Jump.

Preparing a New Team
This year the ACS classes are already working to prepare for this year’s tournament, which will be held in Grauze Austria next Summer. “They will be working on new systems to deploy on the robot,” said Mr. Jump.
Mr. Jump is continually looking for ways to advance the BSM engineering program further than any of its competitors. He is doing this by hopefully speeding up the progression of the ACS classes: “it’s a multiple year project…we hope to puss [level III] into II, and put more software developing into level I,” said Mr. Jump.
By speeding up the curriculum, the teams will hopefully have more time to prepare, which was one issue for the students this summer. “It was too bad that we didn’t have enough preparations time,” said O’Reilly.

The ACS program also hopes to gain more notoriety by entering into lower level tournaments as well. Said Mr. Jump, “We are taking ACS I and II and putting them in RoboCup Jr.,” where they will be competing with teams ranging from high school students to college freshmen.

The team has high hopes for the near future. “We expect to win a championship in three years,” said Mr. Jump.