Antimov Competition


When BattleBots and mechanical cage matches went mainstream some years ago, I was into it. I mean, yeah, what's not to like? No-holds-barred mechanical destruction? I'm all over that action! Chainsaws, clubs, drills... you could get your fix of medieval siege warfare, mechanical craftsmanship, RC and electronics, all in a creative physical expression that stuck fear in the hearts of all that bore witness. I was powerless to look away.

But as the years wore on, you'd see the same old tricks. Oh, that one's a wedge. Yeah, this one's got a club. And EM weapons weren't legal. What's up with that? Ho hum. You're boring me. Can't we do something else for a while? Tie an inflatable doll on top or something.

Well, around about the last AVC, our own Chris Taylor came up with an idea that made everybody stop and consider. What if instead of a robot doing something complicated in the most efficient way possible, we had a contest for robots that did the most menial task in the most laborious way possible? And then they had to destroy themselves?

OK, go back and read that again, as I'm sure some of you are thinking we're off our gourds. He then gave us an example that had us rolling on the ground: imagine a robotic teddy bear trying to dunk a cookie in a glass of milk, but because it doesn't have any fingers it spills the milk and begins to cry, then sets itself on fire.

That poor, poor teddy bear.


Still think I'm kidding? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Antimov competition.

Scheduled for October 16 of 2010, this event will test your engineering skills, your creativity, your humor and your very character as you explore your human side in a way never done before. Come and indulge yourself with us in a fest of technological irony and destruction!


Comments 73 comments

  • This is f—in sweet. Ive already got ideas cranking through my head. Most of the stuff I make brakes already. But to build something that is going to destroy it self. Thats an Idea.
    Thanks for batch pcb and getting twice the boards I order. Im going to need um.

  • I like it! If I wasn’t so busy and so far away I’d enter for sure. Maybe if I come up with a good enough idea I’ll enter and fly out of a fantastic fall weekend in Colorado for some robots and hiking. Suppose I should check if it’s hiking or snowboarding season in the middle of October…
    My initial idea is a stair climbing robot that climbs stairs by cutting them down to his level. Destruction by cutting that support beam that just shouldn’t be cut…

  • Uhh… Guys??
    I think there is one minor issue. How do plan to get this thing on the plane to get there.
    TSA: What is the nature and purpose of this homemade device?
    You: to self-immolate.
    TSA: !!!!!!

    • HA! Yeah…I suppose you could UPS or FEDEX your bot. I figure if someone is flying in to Colorado for the competition they probably will not be there for the cash prize, but rather to have a bot destroy itself among fellow bot creators/destroyers.
      This is why we are now offering video entries.

  • PresidentOfAwesomeness: I would join this competition if it weren’t for the destruction part. I don’t like the watch my own things get destroyed.
    I also agree. What’s the point on destroying? I also find it so lame the “Does it Blend” philosophy and testing if an iPone or iPad will blend. I like very much SparkFun and love its projects and what they do, but please, don’t start now promoting Does it Blend or destruction crusades just to gain popularity. Let’s stay creative, it promotes the intelligence.

    • Uh, the “Does it blend” videos are a paid advertisement for a brand of blenders.
      I’m not sure what “philosophy” you’re ascribing to them.

    • The point of the contest is to go against the philosophies of what makes robots useful. By destroying themselves (or rendering themselves useless), it goes against this concept.

  • Didn’t the Deepwater Horizon already win this?…
    Oh yes, there was human interaction.

  • All of the comments are interesting with regards to the whole uselessness of the project. I foresee the simplest contestant being the line-following walking robot on a table which cannot follow any line (except the straight one over the edge of the table).
    Simple, elegant self-destruction. Meets all the competition requirements.
    Maybe I will enter this - it’s about at my level of programming…

  • This sounds like LOADS of fun. Time for brainstorming…

  • Alright folks, before you pooh-pooh this idea too smugly, consider: real world engineering is full of these kinds of design challenges. For example, if you are the system integrator for a Mars rover, you certainly do not get to launch test vehicles to Mars over and over again, retrieve them, fix a bug or two, and re-deploy. On a smaller scale, if your new game console goes out the door with a date-specific bug that renders it unusable (ahem), you’d better hope that it either fixes itself or can be resolved remotely, or you’ll be losing a lot of money to ship and/or replace customers' gear.
    No, the development strategy here is very simple - the design must be broken down into isolated pieces and can be tested independently of each other. You test the cookie dunking and milk spilling engine (CDMSE) and its side of the interface as one action, and reset / patch / re-compile as many times as you need to. You then test the self-immolation module (SIM) and =its= side of the interface as a separate activity. Only at the time of the competition (or a high-cost dress rehearsal) to you marry the CDMSE to the SIM.

  • Maybe you can allow people to submit videos as well as a live contest. That way more people could compete because this seems easy enough to capture on video.

  • This is a genius idea and the most creative contest I’ve ever heard! Can’t wait to see the devices people create. :)

  • This is an interesting idea I’ve not heard before. While yes, possibly an exercise in futility it’s just plain fun all the same.
    I think an interesting way you could get more complex entrants and over-all participation is reimburse PCBs made exclusively for the competition, and only after they have been destroyed(to discourage free-loading). And of course some sort of prizes to the winners.
    My random idea is a cnc that carefully cuts a piece then goes after its own controller-board in such a way that interesting things happen. perfect if you have a shoddy diy one that has too much play in the mechanics to be of real use.

  • Lol? some people are getting so butthurt over this… I think it’s a sweet idea, it’s not like you’ll spend $500 on this, just stick a bomb in a robot Elmo and have it try to drive a car… Have fun with it! The challenge here is making the best explosion (or other form of death), not the best robot.

  • It should be called “Adventures in Robotic Existentialism."
    Here’s an idea. Grab a current sensor breakout (http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_id=8883), a SPDT relay (http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_id=100), transistor… resistors… etc, and a cheap AVR. Also grab an LED/LCD display or something and a voltage source that would easily fry an AVR. If you’re not a wimp, try 120v AC. Also get some gasoline for dramatic effect.
    Normally, the voltage source should be directed through a load like a light bulb, or something within the specs of the current sense breakout. This is the boring part. The current sensor would measure the current and send it back to the AVR’s ADC, then display the current. When a button is pushed, the AVR waits a random amount of seconds (unpredictability is good as well) before clicking the relay over, applying 120v to the AVR, and seeing the current spike as the AVR and all connected peripherals fry and the gasoline lights on fire.
    For style points, use an Arduino. Hey, I might just do this.

  • Neat. I think the idea is neat and different. I’m thinking of it more like a [Performance] Art Robot than anything else - and the destruction is part of the act. I’d need to know more and think of it more before I decided whether I’d go for it, but on its face I’d be willing to try the idea.

  • Hmm.
    I see the fun and challenge in this but I think that people will be put off by the fact that it will be there materials, components and therefore money that they are then going to destroy.
    I think it would draw a lot more people if it was done more like a scrap heap challenge. A selection of parts are given to the teams and then there is a load of parts, scrap etc that can be used to build the robots from this.
    I think it would also be good if sparkfun did this kind of thing as competitions etc. I think that this could the be something to get schools involved in (well maybe not constructions that do not a lot then destroy themselves) and it could be a real benefit to people.
    Mowcius

    • Well duh!
      This is the perfect forum for experimenting with junk bots. I’m not going to put a $60 solid state compass in this, but I’d be happy to “Rube Goldberg” a compass-like piece of Steam-punk crap using a boy scout compass and (not giving away any silly tricks.)
      This is all about imagination. Most competitions have run for so long that the optimal solution has already been ironed out which makes it about as much fun as watching paint dry. Here you can let your imagination run free to solve a problem that no one has!
      Think “Those Amazing Young Men and Their Flying Machines”, the movie. Oh, yeah, you kids can check it out on Turner Classics or maybe on The History Channel. ;)
      Hmm,
      DLC

  • Ah, would that I had the time for this one. Sounds brilliant!

  • This contest is Not about futility.
    In a sense, it puts us into the mindset of women.
    Why put in the energy, time, effort to create (then raise & teach) a “being” knowing it will eventually cease (usually sooner, than later.)
    Which the same can be said… Why would we design, develop, and build a complex mechanism (ie: dragster motor, heat seeking missle, etc.) when you know it will destroy itself after Only one use?
    It’s what you Learn from the process - from the Beginning to the End. That’s the key to this contest and the fun.

  • How about a robot that can type?
    The demo starts – the robot is controlled via serial terminal and has a menu or command line.
    The builder tests the robot by typing a command:

    wave
    The robot waves.
    blink
    The robot’s eyes blink.
    This goes on for a few minutes with a few different commands.
    Then the builder types this command:
    live
    The robot ‘wakes up’, looks around, and types a few of the same commands the builder did.
    The robot is curious as to what it can do..
    Then the robot executes a ‘help’ command.
    It gets a large list of commands.
    Then tries the commands one at a time, in order.
    Each does something interesting.
    Then, the last command is die.
    The robot executes this command and dies in some impressive manner. (short circuits, falls apart, etc)
    Could you use a bunch electro magnets to hold the bot together then cut power to make it fall apart.

  • I’ve always wanted to build a suicidal robot. You plug its AC cord into the wall and it wakes up, looks around, groans, and unplugs itself.

  • I agree with may of the opinions that the very nature of this competition if counter-intuitive, but that is the whole point of this endeavor. This whole competition is a great fusion of engineering and art.
    Many people are averse to the idea that they cannot test when the end result is total destruction. You should understand that in many areas of engineering, you aren’t able to test the whole assembly. NASA shuttle engineers have to have their parts working on the first try, they don’t get “do overs”. Therein lies the challenge. You only get one (more or less) try at the real thing.
    Besides, there is something freeing and cathartic about letting go of one of your creations. It’s not about the final result, but enjoying the process that got you there. This competition is the robotics equivalent to Buddhist sand painting (wiki it!). It is to be enjoyed as a moment in time that will be gone once it’s over.
    Climb out of your boxes, fellow free thinkers!

  • I think this is a great example of a device engineered to fail.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Phurqwcgw4#t=51

  • Can’t make it out there, so I’ll just contribute to the “idea pool”:
    I would have a robot that is able to release a stack of overhead weights, thereby crushing itself to bits.
    But first it would try to “plead for it’s robotic life” to a jury of humans (volunteers randomly pulled from the spectators). It would use a SpeakJet or other sound chip to make verbal statements: argue the case for robotic right-to-life, beg for mercy, tell jokes, etc. The jury will each have 2 buttons (thumb up/thumb down).
    If the robot fails to convince at least one of the jurors to show mercy after a preset time, then it fails the task and must crush itself. Of course, the robot will make a final tear-jerking statement before dropping the weights on itself. (Sick, aint it?)
    I wonder if a “cute” robot would have a better chance? What if the robot started to taunt rather than plead? How will the crowd react to the jury’s decision? What if the crushed robot “bleeds” - will the jury feel remorse?

  • I get it. I get it.
    This is my next big project! I love it.
    I imagine the old ‘Mouse Trap’ sort of Rube Goldberg project that blows it’s self up as a grand finale.
    For those worried about permanent destruction, consider making something that is spring loaded and is built to fly into bits, yet go back together again!
    Holy Sh*t boy and girls, this could be seriously fun (snark, spark, snark)!
    Heef

  • are small amounts of explosives allowed for the robot to kill itself?

  • SUICIDAL ROBOTS!!!!!!! (beware?)

  • I love this idea…it’s like a robotics version of the Rube Goldberg competitions.
    How about a robot who’s purpose is to press its own kill switch, which is suspended 30 feet in the air?

    • You can certainly do that as your entry! This is meant to encompass any idea you had for destroying your own robot.

  • So… can I just put a bomb in it?

  • The hard thing about this is that you can only test your thing you have built once - and then you must build it again.

    • Its like any project. Make one part at a time and test them. Then throw um all tougher and do a final test at the contest. Ive only had a few projects work out of the shoot. Its going to be a good time.

  • The example immediately brought THIS device to mind. Maybe it is the cleanup bot for cleaning up after the teddy bear.

  • I think some people are missing the point here.
    The whole point it to create a self working piece of performance art.
    You think the floats for the Rose Bowl Parade are kept forever and ever? Of course not. They’re probably disassembled the next day.
    It’s OK to build something to perform a particular task and then its done.

    • The floats are actually kept in a warehouse for a while after the parade. they start to rot. it smells horrible.

  • Yes, this is the creativity that makes the contest worthwhile. I had the idea of a robot that vibrates so much that all its screws loosen and it falls apart. It’s not ‘destroyed’ but has rendered itself useless.

  • It’s interesting to see the proposed methods of destruction are mostly fire, explosions, thermite, etc.. I predict that the one that wins won’t burn at all.
    I am envisioning some sort of ice-cream maker bot that makes insta-popsicles or something with liquid nitrogen, but it’s main structural components are made of a plastic or other material that’s incredibly fragile when supercooled. So, it makes some ice cream, shoots it out at the crowd or making a pointless, frozen mess, then spills the liquid nitrogen all over itself and cracks under it’s own weight and shatters. EPIC WIN!

  • For those of you (like me) who aren’t too keen on the whole self-destructing part… Here’s a way to follow the rules and make a statement: Have the robot produce a work of art, which by definition is pointless in a practical sense, and is rarely executed in the most efficient manner. Construct the robot of rapidly biodegradable materials (read: “food”) and for the destruction phase have it transport itself to where it will be eaten (by bugs, microbes, birds, spectators, whatever) to death.

  • Nate - I have a project in mind already. I doubt that I can make it to Boulder then, but could I send in a project? If so, I?m in! I would like to see video of it ?doing its task? at the competition. Is there any way to send in a project to be judged? Maybe like Circuit Cellar contests?
    Another thought, if you add a zero to the prize amount and open it worldwide - I bet you could attract some really interesting projects!

  • I would enjoy this competition if there was an also incentive for success. I know that is a repeat argument, but hear me out. In a typical challenge innovation is only encouraged to the point of reliability. If the prize for a spectacular failure is almost as good as the prize for success people may be encouraged to take more risks on innovative designs.

  • Funny how the majority of people on here hated the idea at first (including me) but the attitude has changed and it seems that the majority love the idea now. Must’ve been a good amount of persuasion on the Sparkfun team’s part…

  • I propose an additional rule, similar to that used in land-speed time trials.
    i.e. if the task is completed successfully it must be repeated successfully on the same day without the use of any additional / substitute equipment. This will ensure it wasn’t just a fluke that it worked properly the first time ;-)

    • I like the idea, but with a machine/robot that destroys itself, I wouldn’t expect to see repetition of the task…

  • I think this is a great idea.
    Claude Shannon is said to have built a device that is sort of in the spirit of this competition. It was based on an idea himself and Marvin Minsky had, called the “Ultimate Machine”. It was a box with a single switch. When you flip the switch, the box opens up and a hand emerges which flips the switch back to the “off” position.
    I agree with the above poster that there’s something bleak and darkly humorous about a machine that has been engineered to catastrophically fail. Millenia from now, sentient machines will find record of this competition and equate it to Christians being throws to the lions in the Colosseum.
    If we can’t attend the competition personally, can we mail our entries in and have the wreckage mailed back to us? Assuming the wreckage is safe to mail, this is.

    • Here you go:
      http://letsmakerobots.com/node/14374
      Not by Claude Shannon, though

    • Perhaps on some level the Romans recognized that to tie together the strings of low-level animalistic physical competition and high-level abstract spectator culture left the most enduring legacy they could hope to achieve. I assume the same unspoken premise for this competition: at least our mechanical successors will be unable to forget us, in the same way that we harbor a horrified fascination for the society that fostered the gladiators as human splatter cinema.

  • I had a thought on this for all the people who don’t want to spend time building something to destroy it. Why not build it to actually destroy itself but in a controlled, resetable way?
    Say you wanted it to literally blow up, you could encase the electronics in a decent metal (steel?) case with some form of shock absorbing material. Then have weak points on the ‘bot that are cheap to replace when it does rip itself apart, kinda like crumple zones on cars.
    Just a thought :)

  • Would thermite be acceptable?

  • This reminds me of a book:
    “Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way it Comes Apart” by Mark E. Eberhart

  • Two thoughts:
    * Could you clarify whether the robot should complete its task or fail to complete its task? “robots that did the most menial task in the most laborious way possible” suggests the task should be achieved but other comments suggest it should fail.
    * Not to make this serious and with a high-minded goal in mind instead of just for fun but…what is biodegradability and recycling? Those things are essentially “destruction” but we think of them as positive things. Perhaps for those who view “mindless destruction” as a bad thing it would help to think of this as having potential for “mindful destruction”? I’m reminded of the “most useless machine” as featured on Colbert the other night: its only purpose is to switch itself off when switched on. Imagine a robot that completed a task and then dismantled itself piece by piece! Result: Complete destruction of the robot but no waste.

  • I kinda like the idea (well, I can’t wait to see the stickers - I’ll be honest, I would order the burning teddy bear sticker). As far as the concept, I have to say it is definitely far from the norm. In engineering studies, you have it hammered into to you that your design must be as flawless as possible and that failure is a bad thing. But that’s where engineering differs from creativity.
    Think of the great minds of the past, how many inventions have come about after numerous, costly failures? Here you’re given the chance to create something where failure doesn’t cost you the whole design. If you make a bad design, the teddy bear lives.
    My only concern is the cost, I’m sure there will be a lot of people who just can’t justify the expense. Good luck guys!

  • Maybe this is a way to get rid of all that gear you bought but you know you’ll never use…you can let that stuff hang around until you eventually throw it out or you can make it destroy itself!
    This competition is certainly original!

  • While I agree that it would be a bit of a waste to build something only to see it destroy itself, I do like the idea. Its actually made me consider other aspects of designs such as survivability. While you may only be designing something like a line follower, how often do you consider what would happen if something happened to it? I’d be curious to see if there are any entries that could do substantial damage to themselves (such as the shell or chassis), yet still have the main components (like that development board you are using) survive for another go. It may not be total destruction, but its still good cheap fun, and maybe even educational for those about to build their first battle bot.

  • I do say i would never break my things but some others might i think i would have more fun watching than participating. Maybe the winner gets reimbursed?

  • I love the idea.
    It is hard enough to design something that will not break, but to design something that MUST break in a specific fashion, seems to be very challenging.
    You must know the dynamics of the break or failure, since it will affect other parts that should work before the next part breaks or fails. This is something I think would be would be really hard to predict which makes the design process all the more interesting and unique. That is why I think this competition is awesome.

  • I foresee this having the same commitment issues of robojoust, but if you guys report that a few people are signing up I’m in…I just don’t want to be the only participant this time.
    First impression idea: simple line follower or something that drives along getting power from a rail (like a trolley) but the further it goes the higher the supply voltage…eventually it’ll go so fast it can’t control line following and then simultaneous magic smoke (from high voltage) and loss of control occur…perhaps with fireworks for effect.

    • I am really sorry about that! Robojoust was implemented way too fast. We’re giving the public lots more time for Antimov.
      There are so many people here within SparkFun already scheming their own entry (me included) that we’re going to have it just for our own entertainment. But would be cool to include the joe-public.
      Best one heard today: robot to re-arrange the chairs on the deck of a mini-titanic. Boat hits iceberg. Gurgle.

  • I really like the idea because it turns my normal engineering cycle on its head. Write code, test. Build thing, test. Antimov makes it a heck of a lot harder to really test the whole device. It doesn’t allow an advantage to the coding guru. Instead it’s who is most creative. I will gladly destroy my robot if it forces me to engineer in a different way.

    • I think this is a terrible idea, and the appeal to being different is a poor justification. Suicide turns your normal life cycle on it’s head, but that doesn’t make it worthwhile.
      I also disagree with the notions that coding gurus have an advantage in more traditional robot contests, that coding gurus having an advantage is a bad thing, and that being good at coding is somehow in opposition to being creative. I also doubt that this contest design of yours does away with the guru’s advantage: the self-destruction requirement is a good incentive not to invest a lot of time or effort into hardware and rather to give the simplest robot some character by doing a lot of stuff in code that you don’t have to rebuild after every test or demonstration.
      - Jan

      • That’s fine - you don’t have to like the idea, but think about it. How would you go about designing/testing something that ultimately was going to be consumed during its use? You might not be interested at all, but what would you build? It can be a fun thought exercise.

        • I can play: The first thing that comes to mind is an Atlas-bot that would, say, not solve a line maze while balancing a big rock above itself and eventually drop the rock on itself. A balancing bot much smaller than the rock would add to the comedy and drama value. That at least seems realistically doable (I must admit–I’m slightly tempted now!), but who’s going to spend time and money making that? I guess I just don’t think it’s actually that much of a challenge to be destructive if the problem is not well-constrained. And how do you judge the “completeness of destruction” of a burned robot compared to a smashed robot?
          Fundamentally, though, I object to the apparent disrespect for good engineering evidenced by your promotion of failure at pointless tasks. As long as it’s just talk about how big of a fish you caught or what kind of superpower you would like, it’s mostly harmless fun; once you start celebrating failure, you dilute the value of true achievement. I wish you would use the platform you have to design and promote better contests (e.g. your AVC) rather than this sort of thing that even you guys seem to be treating as kind of a joke.
          - Jan

    • It is easy to test, just don’t fill the flammable liquid tank and just test the igniter!
      But that only works when you use certain materials.

  • In Robot Wars and BattleBots, the whole goal was the fight and destruction. The goal was to damage the other bot and avoid damage to yourself at all costs.
    For Antimov, however, the destruction is completely pointless and unnecessary.
    It will also have the counter-intuitive effect of having people make less complicated designs. Why poor time and money in a project if the end result is assured pointless destruction?

    • I competed in Robot Wars in 1997. For a robotic gladiator, what better fate than glorious destruction in the arena? That robot has long since met the much less noble destiny of being slowly cannibalized for other projects. The one bit I still have as a memento is the wheel with the gaping gash torn into it by opponents spike-hammer.
      This competition is a bit different, in that the goal is to tell a joke. The destruction is the punchline, and it means you get one shot: the spectators at the event will see the one and only performance, which adds to the value of the experience, and the glory if you get it right.

  • I would join this competition if it weren’t for the destruction part. I don’t like the watch my own things get destroyed.

    • I agree. Maybe I’m not getting it, but this seems like the very definition of the phrase “exercise in futility”. Who wants to build a robot that accomplishes nothing and then destroys itself? Plus think about the testing phase. Everytime you want to fully test the device you have to destroy it and then start over.


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