The overall goal in competition robotics is to win matches, but this says nothing about the goals within a specific game. When presented with a competition robotics game challenge, the first step is to analyze the game and determine the optimal way to win matches. Determining this optimal strategic design will allow a team then make the optimal physical design of the robot. The first step in analyzing the game is very simple; however, much like strategic design, it is often overlooked. This simple step is reading the game rules. The game rules are, in a sense, the design specifications for a competition robot. The rules explain the objectives of the game, what actions are permitted, and which actions are prohibited. Almost all competition robotics games are structured so that a team wins matches by outscoring their opponents. Assuming that the game being played is in this format, after completely reading the rules a team needs to ask the following questions.
1. What are the different ways of scoring points?
- Make a list of all potential ways to score points, no matter how obscure they may be. Competition robotics games can often be much more complicated than a conventional sport. For example, in soccer you score points by kicking the ball into a goal. That’s it. However, in competition robotics there can be multiple ways to score points for performing an assortment of different tasks. In fact, sometimes these tasks are not fully obvious to the untrained eye. To avoid missing these scoring potentials, one must read every detail of the rules and also learn to read between the lines. Consider the following example:
A game has an objective of scoring points by being on a platform. The platform consists of an elevated surface with a tall flagpole in the center. The rules state that a robot is considered to be “on” the platform if it is touching any part of the platform, but not touching the ground. The obvious way to score points by being on the platform would be to have the robot climb onto the elevated platform. However, the less obvious way to score points on the platform would be to grab the flagpole and to climb it such that the robot is no longer touching the ground. Recall that the flagpole is part of the platform, and the rules simply state that you must be touching the platform and not touching the ground. It is vital that a team carefully searches the rules for all possibilities of this sort. Missing them will ensure that a team misses valuable opportunities to score points, thereby reducing the chances of winning a match.
2. What are the different ways of stopping your opponent from scoring points?
- Make a list of all potential ways to deny points, no matter how obscure they may be. In any competition robotics match that involves robots playing against each other, the skill of denying points (known as defense) is invaluable. Many teams only focus on scoring points, not realizing the value towards winning a match that is provided by denying points.
- Looking at the above two lists, what is the maximum possible score in a match? Is there a maximum possible score?
- To determine the maximum score, look at all the potential ways to score points and determine if any of them are limited. For example, if the game involves scoring pop cans in containers, the limits could be the number of pop cans or the size of the container.