Book: Competitive MINDSTORMS: A Complete Guide to Robotic Sumo using LEGO(r) MINDSTORMS
WHEN DAVID CONTACTED ME to ask about writing the foreword for his MINDSTORMS
book, my first thought was, ·~other book about LEGO robotics-is there still something
to write about it?" In fact, the shelves of the bookstores now offer a wide selection
of books about building robots with the LEGO MINDSTORMS system. Many of them
are actually very good books, which cover the matter quite deeply and exhaustively.
However, a few lines below in his e-mail, David explained to me that the book was
to deal exclusively with robotic sumo. That raised my interest and made me feel suddenly
excited, because I love sumo. I strongly believe that building a robot to attend a
sumo contest is one of the best experiences for hobby robotics fans, because it's both
extremely instructive and a lot of fun!
Let me clarify my thought. Generally speaking, attending a contest is a very good
way to learn about robotics. First of all, the contest helps the builder to keep focused
on a specific goal. In fact, many beginners get lost in simply deciding what to buildeither
getting quickly bored by too simple projects or frustrated by too complex ones.
In the second place, the rules of the tournament state very precisely what is
allowed and what is not, providing a context to the designer's choices and narrowing
the possibilities. The beginner is guided to build something that complies with some
technical specifications, while the expert gets challenged to fmd creative solutions
without infringing the rules.
Finally, during the progress of the contest, the builder has the invaluable opportunity
to compare his own technical choices and programming strategies with his competitors'
ones. There's always something to learn, something that makes you say "I
didn't think of that." Even when you win, you should study carefully the defeated
robots, because you will surely find nice ideas to store in your knowledge base for
Robotic sumo in particular is definitely my favorite kind of competition. If you've
never attended one, forget any impression you might have received by some 1V shows,
where crazy machines try to destroy each other. As David clearly explains in the first
chapter, those are not robots, but rather remote-controlled vehicles. In true robotic
sumo tournaments, violence is forbidden, with pushing being the only action allowed
against the opponent. More important, during each match, the robot is under sole
control of its own program, and human intervention is not possible. That forces the
designer to try to forecast any possible situations, find a way to recognize them, and
trigger the proper behavior.