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Patent: Managing Robot Games
Patent: Managing Robot Games | dal_ftw_txbz, David A. Norman, Greenville, Robert H. Mimlitch, Rowlett, Paul S. Adams, Dallas, Patent, 8014897, System, Apparatus, And Method For Managing And Controlling Robot Competitions, robot, robot competition,

U.S. Patent 8,014,897 for “System, Apparatus, And Method For Managing And Controlling Robot Competitions.”

Texas Business Patent Of The Day:  Three Dallas-area men devised a way to have robots compet against each other.

David A. Norman of Greenville, Robert H. Mimlitch of Rowlett, Paul S. Adams of Dallas received U.S. Patent 8,014,897 for “System, Apparatus, And Method For Managing And Controlling Robot Competitions.”

The three filed for the patent on January 4, 2008.

The patent assignee is Innovation First Inc. of Greenville.

The three men’s invention generally relate to robot competitions, and more specifically, but not by way of limitation, to a system and method for managing, controlling, and providing safety for robot competitions. 

Robot competitions have become popular in the recent past, according to patent document.

The robot competitions are used as incentive to motivate people of all ages to become interested in math, science, and engineering; robot design and development; and used as entertainment events. One popular robot competition is organized for high school students and sponsored by large corporations.

 In these robot competitions, contestants of the robot competitions are asked to create robots to perform a wide range of tasks, such as picking up tennis balls, stacking blocks of wood, and everything in-between. Other popular robot competitions have been organized and conducted by people with robots built as a hobby to perform more advanced activities. Still yet, more robot competitions have been organized by for-profit promoters, and match contestants against one another to design large, dangerous robots that clash in an arena for a fight, such as a boxing or wrestling match. 

Robot competitions are generally concerned with four issues: (i) event safety, (ii) event integrity, (iii) event flow, and (iv) event control. These four issues are important from liability, learning, and revenue generated standpoints. 

Event safety is an extremely important issue for robot competitions. Depending upon the robot competition, the robots may range in size from ounces to hundreds of pounds, and may reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour or more in relatively short distances. Additionally, the larger robots may include weapons, such as gripping devices, hammers, rotating arms, and saws to be utilized during the robot competitions. Robots having such devices may be extremely dangerous for the contestants, organizers, and spectators of the robot competitions if an uncontrolled situation occurs. 

While the size, strength, and capabilities of the robots may in and of themselves be dangerous, the event safety issue is exponentially increased due to tens or several hundreds of robots being entered in any robot competition. And, as contestants prepare and test the robots prior to entering the arena for an event, the contestants routinely lose control of their robots due to a robot malfunction, radio control interference, or human error. 

With regard to radio interference, robot competitions have been conducted traditionally in two ways, (i) allowing contestants to utilize mixed, non-uniform radio equipment, and (ii) requiring contestants to utilize consistent radio equipment. In the case of contestants utilizing mixed radio equipment, contestants generally have adapted model airplane radio controllers for the robots because these radio controllers have more capability and frequency channels than radio controllers for remote control cars, for example. However, because the model airplane radio controllers transmit at high power levels, two watts or more, in general, these radio controllers are problematic for robot competitions due to, for example, radio frequency (RF) noise, electromagnetic interference (EMI), co-channel interference, and multipath effects due to being in an indoor environment. These radio control problems may cause unexpected effects, such as a contestant controlling a robot of a different contestant or a robot performing mysterious actions. Also, the use of mixed radio equipment often results in two or more contestants operating on or near the same frequency, which will likely cause a contestant to unknowingly drive a robot of another contestant, thereby creating a dangerous situation for the contestants, organizers, spectators, and robots. 

With regard to event integrity, an organizer of the robot competition is concerned about conducting a fair and honest competition. In the traditional robot competitions, contestants utilizing both the mixed and consistent radio equipment have no absolute regulation to prevent early starts, late starts, or late stops of the robots. For activity-type competitions, a contestant may cheat and start or continue the activity prior to or after a clock starts and stops, respectively. In a fight-type competition, a contestant may strike an opposing robot prior to or after the clock starts and stops, respectively. If such an early or late strike occurs, the opposing robot may suffer irreparable damage, and the contest may be jeopardized, thereby destroying the integrity of the event as the contest cannot be replayed. 

With regard to event flow, as radio controllers are essentially unregulated, including operating on the same frequencies and having high power transmitters, robot competition organizers are required to confiscate radio controllers from the contestants to minimize safety hazards. The organizers often utilize as many as fifteen people to confiscate and guard the radio controllers in a storage room. In the case of non-consistent radio equipment, organizers have instituted different techniques, including both low budget and elaborate techniques, to assign frequency channels to contestants. These techniques range from (i) attaching a number to a clothes pin to be used for checking out the radio controller for a match, (ii) utilizing a software program specifically written to ensure that two contestants do not operate on the same or close frequency simultaneously, and (iii) utilizing a spectrum analyzer to monitor frequency channel usage. Even using these techniques to avoid having two radios operating on the same frequency, mistakes have routinely been made and safety has been jeopardized. It is common to find a contestant's radio to be transmitting on a different frequency than expected. Some common causes are human error, intentional misuse, mislabeled crystals, poor or old equipment, and lack of knowledge of the equipment by the contestant. Also, contestants routinely have additional radio controllers that are "backups" that are not confiscated and pose a safety hazard. 

In the case of using consistent radio equipment, such as having transmitters operating on frequency channels A, B, C, and D, confusion and accidents routinely occur as contestants have trouble with installation of the radio equipment, forget to return the radio equipment, or simply use their own radio equipment. And, installing radio equipment into the robot electronics for the first time may produce unexpected results or no results at all. Pragmatically, contestants want to perform last minute testing of the robots prior to entering the robot competition. Without having a radio controller because the organizers only have enough for competition purposes, such a test is not possible. Furthermore, as the robots may weigh several hundred pounds or more and be tract driven, the contestants may need radio control to move the robot between different staging areas, and to load and unload the robot from the arena. Furthermore, issues resulting from poor control of match starts and stops, as mentioned previously, leads to re-match requests by contestants for the reason of fairness. Re-matches cause havoc for schedules, adding complexity and confusion to event flow. Logistical problems associated with the event flow issue often cause delay before, during, and after a match, and alter smooth flow of the overall robot competition. 

With regard to the event control issue, organizers of the robot competition are interested in controlling frequency usage and regulating start and stop times of the robots for safety, event integrity, and event flow considerations. However, traditional robot competitions have been unsuccessful in implementing a viable solution to handle the event control issue. While the coordinators have tried to regulate and assign frequency channels, problems still occur. Organizers are subjected to rely on unregulated equipment and a contestant honor system. Data rejection via a checksum or robot identifier signal to be verified by the robots is an idea that simply has not been instituted. Also, contestants tend to start and stop a match early and late to gain a competitive advantage and frequency channels are routinely crossed due to a mix-up of issuing radio controllers by the organizers of the robot competitions. 

The above issues provide just a sampling of the problems that organizers and contestants of robot competitions have faced. Other issues that the organizers face are Federal Communication Commission (FCC) control for the radio frequency and RF power usage, governmental oversight of safety issues, and television networks desiring more streamlined competition for production purposes. With the popularity of the robot competitions becoming increasing larger, these issues need to be solved. 

To solve the problematic issues of robot competitions, including (i) event safety, (ii) event integrity, (iii) event flow, and (iv) event control, a system and method has been designed to manage and control robot competitions. The principles of the present invention may include components that can be divided into two basic categories, components used by the contestants, and components used by the event organizers. The various contestant and organizer components have been seamlessly integrated into a complete wireless robot control system. The wireless robot control system may be used by robot designers and contestants of the robot competition to pilot and control the robot(s). The wireless robot control system also provides a simple method of ensuring that the equipment includes safety features according to the principles of the present invention and may be easily identified as having the safety features by the event organizers simply by recognizing the equipment brand. The components used by the event organizers form a competition control system and ensure event safety and integrity to manage event flow and to provide control over the equipment of the contestants as needed to safely conduct the competition. The system may provide for a field controller, arena controller, operator interface, and robot controller to be utilized to ensure for event safety, integrity, flow and control of a robot competition. By utilizing the system and method, event organizers can focus more on the goals of the competition, whether for educational or entertainment purposes, and spend less time on communication and competition issues. 

The principles of the present invention include a system and method for operating robots in a robot competition. One embodiment of the system may include operator interfaces, where each operator interface is operable to control movement of a respective robot. A respective operator interface may be in communication with an associated operator radio, where each radio may have a low power RF output signal. A robot controller may be coupled to each robot in the robot competition. A robot radio may be coupled to a respective robot and in communication with a respective robot controller and operator radio. The robot radios may have a low power RF output signal while communicating with the respective operator radios. Alternatively, the radios may be short range radios, where a distance of communication may be a maximum of approximately 500 feet.