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Chicago Area Robotics Group CHIBOTS: Chicago Area
Robotics Group

Left to right: Brian Smolik, David Cook, Terry Surma, Cliff Boerema, Steve Hassenplug, Tom Gralewicz, and Paul Jurczak
Left to right: Brian Smolik, David Cook, Terry Surma, Cliff Boerema, Steve Hassenplug,
Tom Gralewicz, and Paul Jurczak.
Not pictured: Jim Munro (behind camera), Eddy Wright (behind another camera),
Al Schilling, John Patrick, and Carlos Garcia.


The Chicago Area Robotics Group held a robot line-following contest on Sunday, February 10, 2002, 1:00 PM during the regular monthly meeting at the Schaumburg Public Library.

As always, the meetings and events are open to the public.
All were welcome to watch or participate!

There was no cost to come and watch. The cost of entering was $5 per robot for any non-member, and free for all members. No prior registration was necessary, in fact, many just showed up on race day.

Line-following race in progress


  1. Course Conditions and Acknowledgements
  2. Results
  3. Contestants
  4. Movies and Snapshots
  5. Robot Line Racing Rules

Racetrack with timer cones

Course Conditions and Acknowledgements

The racetrack consisted of twenty 12" x 12" tiles made by Mike Bakula, Jim Munro, and Eddy Wright. The pattern consisted of straight, straight, (start), straight, straight, right turn, straight, right turn, straight, left turn, right turn, straight, (split mark) straight, right turn, left turn, straight, right turn, right turn, straight, left turn, and right turn.

So, one lap equals ten straight and ten quarter-turns for a total of (10 x 12" + 10 x (12 x pi / 4)) 214.25". That's approximately 544 centimeters. Actually, the tiles are just less than 12" square; so the real course length is probably around 532 cm, but who's counting? Total three-lap race length is approximately 1632 cm.

To prevent slippage, The tiles were taped together with black masking tape.

The start and approximate halfway points were marked by red cones (drink cups) containing infrared interrupter beams by David Cook. The robot could be started anywhere on the straightaway before the start cones, with the race timer beginning when the robot crossed the start line. This "running start" prevented coordination issues and false starts.

A purple box contained a Motorola 68HC908GP32 MCU as a timer, with an LCD for output. As the robot passed through the interrupter beams, the time was recorded for each partial (about halfway) and full lap, up to three laps. Pressing a button on the purple box or hitting return on a connected laptop (if desired) uploaded the time data into the laptop.

John Orlando was the official timekeeper, running the purple box, with a manual stopwatch as a backup. Scott Williamson posted the times onto a whiteboard (with markers supplied by Don Kerste).

Jim Munro accepted the contest coordinator lead role from Mike Bakula, who initiated the idea. Jim kept the contest on the forefront of the group email list, dolled-out assignment requests, called for prizes, and created the winning certificates.

Besides making some of the course tiles, Eddy Wright brought a still camera and video camera. Without which, the event would probably have gone on significantly undocumented.

Paul Jurczak certified robots by placing them in a LEGO box (with a wee bit of room to spare). He also provided sign-in sheets for robot / contestant information. (So, you have him to thank for the detailed contestant information on this web page.)

Tom Gralewicz was a wonderful emcee and host. Providing both play-by-play and color commentary, he presented a positive face to the event. Rarely a dull moment, his call-ups kept an entertaining pace without ever denying an entrant the time and number of attempts desired to feel given a fair shot.

At the risk of editorializing (too late), this was one of the most cooperative endeavors I have ever encountered in a volunteer organization. The group really pulled together, even if by accident, to produce a complete contest.



Congratulations to all of the mad scientists that entered robots. The stunning fact that almost half of the robots (6 out of 14) were unable to complete the race is a testament to how difficult it is to build a robust line-following robot. Every person who had the courage to bring a robot to the contest should be proud of that remarkable achievement.

To those who might be concerned about the viability or respectability of LEGO MindStorms robots, take a look at first and third place.

# Robot's Name Lap 1 Split Lap 1 Full Lap 2 Split Lap 2 Full Lap 3 Split Lap 3 Full Total Time Overall Speed
1 LEGO Lighting 3.30s 7.36s 3.21s 7.22s 3.36s 7.54s 22.13s 73.8 cm/s
2 Sandwich 6.75s 15.20s 6.58s 15.18s 6.57s 17.63s *48.02s 34.0 cm/s
3 LEGOR 8.18s 19.17s 8.49s 19.20s 8.57s 19.73s 58.10s 28.1 cm/s
4 Wavy 10.75s 23.90s 11.01s 24.30s 11.08s 24.45s 72.65s 22.5 cm/s
5 Beep 12.06s 26.58s 12.40s 27.15s 12.35s 26.95s 80.69s 20.2 cm/s
6 Mad Hatter 31.47s 43.07s 13.79s 30.98s 13.86s 24.49s *98.55s 16.6 cm/s
7 Instant Bot 13.94s 34.74s 14.00s 38.38s 13.94s 30.77s *103.90s 15.7 cm/s
8 Mini 14.01s 42.45s 14.61s 32.20s 15.17s 33.09s *107.75s 15.2 cm/s

*Total does not include five-second penalty for nudge or running off course.

Honorable Mention:
Cheesy Little Ratbot
Last Minute
Frustration: Month I

Best Dressed: Mad Hatter
My Robot Fried: Cheesy Little Ratbot
Best of Show: LEGO Lightning


Appeared at Contest:


Robot's Name: LEGO Lightning
Builder's Name: Steve Hassenplug

Line Sensors: 3 LEGO

Microcontroller: LEGO RCX
Programming Language: LegOS

Motors: 2 LEGO
Wheels: 3 LEGO
Speed: 73.8 cm/s

Batteries: 6 AA

Mass: 542 grams

Robot's Name: Sandwich
Robot's Web Page:

Builder's Name: David Cook
Builder's Web Site:

Line Sensors: 4 photoresistors

Microcontroller: LM393 comparator

Motors: 2 Hsiang Neng gearmotor
Wheels: 2 LEGO
Speed: 26 cm/s stock, 34 cm/s on course

Batteries: 9 V alkaline

W x L x H: 21 cm x 15 cm x 6.5 cm
Mass: 340 grams

Notes: Schematics and building instructions appear in the book Robot Building for Beginners. Sandwich's speed improved 30% over book stock by running with fresh alkaline 9 V battery and larger-diameter wheels.

Robot's Name: LEGOR
Builder's Name: Paul Jurczak

Microcontroller: LEGO MindStorms RCX
Programming Language: NQC

Line Sensors: 3 LEGO light sensors

Motors: 4 old (mid-speed) LEGO motors
Wheels: tracks
Speed: 61 cm/s max, 30 cm/s avg, 28.1 cm/s on course

Batteries: 8 AAA NiMH

Mass: 588 grams
Wavy Robot's Name: Wavy

Builder's Name: David Cook
Builder's Web Site:

Line Sensors: 4 photoresistors

Microcontroller: LM2901 comparator

Motors: 2 Maxon gearmotors
Wheels: 2 LEGO
Speed: 22.5 cm/s

Batteries: 9 V alkaline

W x L x H: 17 cm x 8 cm x 6 cm
Mass: 286 grams

Notes: Early prototype for Sandwich robot. For contest, robot was run with stock 9 V battery and wheels, but speed can be doubled by using two 9 V batteries.
Beep Robot's Name: Beep
Builder's Name: Al Schilling

Microcontroller: none

Line Sensors: 2 photoresistors (photocells)

Motors: 2 small gearmotors
Wheels: rubber, 2.5 diameter
Speed: 20.2 cm/s

Batteries: 4 AA

Mass: 494 grams

Robot's Name: The Mad Hatter
Builder's Name: Terry Surma

Microcontroller: none

Line Sensors: IR

Motors: 2 RE510T
Wheels: 4"
Speed: 33 cm/s max, 16.6 cm/s on course

Batteries: 6 C cell

W x L x H: 21 cm x 24 cm x 16 cm (sans feather)
Mass: 1256 grams

Notes: IR LED detectors into an op amp driving relays to motors that are friction drive to wheels
Instant Bot Robot's Name: Instant Bot
Builder's Name: Tom Gralewicz

Microcontroller: LEGO RCX 2.0
Programming Language: LEGO MindStorms

Line Sensors: single LEGO

Motors: dual LEGO
Wheels: large narrow LEGO
Speed: 15.7 cm/s

Batteries: 6 AA

Mass: 524 grams
Mini Robot's Name: Mini
Robot's Web Page:

Builder's Name: Eddy Wright
Builder's Web Site:

Microcontroller: LM339 comparator

Line Sensors: OPB706A IR sensor

Motors: HobbyMotor
Wheels: LEGO
Speed: 20 cm/s, 15.2 cm/s on course

Batteries: 2 AA

Mass: 244 grams
BADlam Robot's Name: BADlam
Robot's Web Page:

Builder's Name: Eddy Wright
Builder's Web Site:

Microcontroller: OOPic II
Programming Language: OOPic BASIC

Line Sensors: phototransistor

Motors: R/C motors
Wheels: tank treads
Speed: 762 cm/s

Batteries: dual 9.6 V

Mass: 1800 grams
Cheesy Little Ratbot MY ROBOT FRIED

Robot's Name: Cheesy Little Ratbot
Builder's Name: Nick and Cliff Boerema

Microcontroller: paired SC head (BEAM)
Programming Language: *solder*

Line Sensors: photocells

Batteries: 3 AA

Mass: 278 grams
IT Robot's Name: IT
Builder's Name: Brian Smolik

Microcontroller: LEGO RCX
Programming Language: LEGO MindStorms

Line Sensors: 1 LEGO

Motors: 2 LEGO
Wheels: 2 LEGO
Speed: 25 cm/s

Batteries: 6 AA alkaline

Mass: 484 grams
Last Minute Robot's Name: Last Minute
Builder's Name: John Patrick

Line Sensors: 5 Sharp 2L01

Microcontroller: 16F628
Programming Language: assembly

Motors: modified servos
Wheels: CDs

Batteries: 9 x 1300 mAh NiMH
Frustration: Month I Robot's Name: Frustration: Month I
Builder's Name: Carlos Garcia

Line Sensors: 2 Lynxmotion line-tracker kits, 3 IR each

Microcontroller: OOPIC II
Programming Language: OOPIC C

Motors: 6 x 6 V DC gearhead motors
Wheels: 6 "Sumo" deluxe tires
Speed: 61 cm/s

Batteries: 2 x 7.2 V NiMH
HRF-2002 Robot's Name: HRF-2002
Builder's Name: Jim Munro
Builder's Web Site:

Line Sensors: IR reflective sensor

Microcontroller: HandyBoard HC11
Programming Language: Interactive C

Motors: 2 Hsiang Neng gearmotor
Wheels: custom 3.75" PVC w/vacuum cleaner belt treads
Speed: 40 cm/s

Batteries: CPU 8 AA rechargeable. Motor 10 AA alkaline

W x L x H: 20 cm x 23 cm x 28 cm
Mass: 2566 grams

Will start with a buzzer tone.
Will display distance traveled on LCD screen.
Builder is a really nice guy.

Seen in Practice:
Jim's line-following robot Robot's Name: Robot Bob

Builder's Name: Jim Munro
Builder's Web Site:

Speed: less than 23 cm/s
Dark Helmet Robot's Name: Dark Helmet

Builder's Name: Jim Munro
Builder's Web Site:

Notes: A real crowd pleaser. Currently disassembled
Sweet! Robot's Name: Sweet!
Robot's Web Page:

Builder's Name: David Cook
Builder's Web Site:

W x L x H: 18 cm x 27 cm x 8 cm
Mass: 774 grams
Speed: 15 cm/s

Notes: Great cornering. Can stop automatically at the end of a course. Was not entered into contest because of operator error. (Wrong dipswitch setting told processor to reset the motherboard if LCD wasn't responding, but LCD was removed for racing.)


Eddy Wright is hosting the movies and snapshots on his site.

by Mike Bakula

Important: All rules and event details were subject to change without notice.
Ultimately, the actual race differed in many ways from the rules below. For example:
  • One robot raced on the track at a time. The time was then recorded and the fastest time at the end of the day was the winner. There wasn't any single elimination / head-to-head racing.

  • The penalty for restoring a wandering robot was 5 seconds, not 10 seconds. Although the 1-foot penalty (if enforced) would have reduced in less of a time penalty than 5 seconds. So, it averaged out. None of the top three places were affected by this change.

  • Multiple restarts were allowed. This allowed everybody ample opportunity to get a good run.
These mutually agreed-upon (quiet consent) changes were announced before the start of racing. They contributed to a positive, informal racing atmosphere.

Here in the 21st century, home-built robots are becoming more capable and more common. The Chicago Area Robotics Group is a group of hobbyists who gather to share information on robotics. These rules have been developed by the society to provide an achievable challenge to new robot builders.

The following rules are intended to provide wide latitude in building line-following racers; we hope you will take them in the spirit in which they are given, and concentrate on building a sporting machine.

Robot Specifications
Robots must be autonomous. (Data links to off-board computers allowed, but no teleoperation. In other words, no human-operated remote controls.)

The maximum robot width is 8.500 inches (216 mm).
The maximum robot length is 11.00 inches (279 mm).
(That's a standard sheet of paper 81/2" by 11")
The robot must start the race in this orientation. So, one cannot angle the robot one way for qualification measuring and then rotate the robot to a different orientation for starting the race.

There are no constraints on robot height.

There are no constraints on robot weight.

Unpainted, curve, and straight track segments

Track Specifications
The track surface is 12.00 inches (305 mm) wide, 1/8 in (3 mm).

The track surface is painted flat black (Krylon Ultra-flat Black).

The track surface is assembled from 12-inch (305 mm) squares of 1/8 in (3 mm) hardboard (Masonite).

The track surface may have discontinuities, not to exceed 1/8 inch (3mm).

The course line is 0-3/4 inch (19 mm) wide, 1/8 inch (3 mm).

The course line is painted flat white (Krylon Flat White).

The course line may have discontinuities, not to exceed 1/8 inch (3mm).

The course line may be curved, with a centerline radius of 6 inches (152 mm).

The robot must deal with the lighting conditions as they appear. That is, room lighting and window drapes will be set as desired by the judges and won't be modified for individual contestants. Also, flash photography and IR focusing cameras will be allowed, unless the judges deem such activities as interfering with the ability to hold the event in general.

Example course (race day course likely to be different)
(Click the picture above of an unofficial example course to see a larger picture.)

Race Scoring
The Robot Line Racing contest is single-elimination ladder.

Races are run in matches of two machines, on separate tracks of equal length.

The faster-qualifying machine gets choice of track.

Each race is timed; the machine with the lower time wins the match.

If the track is open-ended, the time is to the end of the line. If the track is a closed loop, the time is to the start/end line after the specified number of laps (usually three).

If neither machine finishes the course, the machine that successfully tracks the course line the longest distance wins the match.

A machine that has no part of its structure over the course line, or is clearly not steering in response to the course line, is no longer tracking the course line.

An official may, at the request of the contestant, reset a machine that is no longer tracking the course line.

Resetting a machine incurs a 10-second (or 1-foot) penalty.

Decisions regarding whether a machine is tracking the course line are made only by a track official.

A match ends when both machines have completed the course, or each machine has been reset once and has lost track of the course line a second time.

Distance is measured as the number of tiles a machine has entered while tracking the course line.

Some races may offer time reductions for achieving secondary objectives (for example, lap-counting). These will be posted before the race.

Some races may use alternative elimination methods. These will be posted before the race.

Race Operations
Each machine gets one or more opportunities to "test drive" on the track for testing and calibration.

Test opportunities are first-come, first-served.

Each machine runs one qualification heat, timed. This qualification time determines their running order in the matches.

Machines are matched in a single-elimination ladder, similar to that used in NHRA drag racing.

Machines will receive an "on deck" call when the match before theirs is ready to run.

Machines should be ready to run when their mach is called. Machines have five minutes to make ready from the "on deck" call.

Matches are started by an official pressing a button on each machine. Alternatively, matches may be started by an infrared signal if both machines have the capability to detect infrared start signals.

Once a match has started, no contestant or official may touch the track or interfere with the machines in any way except to reset a machine as stated above.

More Information
Questions or comments about these rules should be directed to Mike Bakula on the ChiBots group email list.