Atlanta's First Mini-Sumo Robot competition
a real crowd-pleaser.

by Richard Bodor
Default vs Lancelot ATLANTA,GA - The crowd was tense. The promotion leading up to this competition was great. Three competitors had gathered on this muggy June morning at and were preparing to face off in the first monthly Mini-Sumo contest, sponsored by the Atlanta Hobby Robot Club. While the contestants went through the ritual of being weighed in by the officials, this reporter mixed with the crowd to get a feeling of the contest.

A quick survey of the attendees quickly ascertained that ROBOR was considered the most likely winner. For months, fans had followed the training regimen of this fierce competitor. Aptly managed by Dale Heatherington, Robor had attended several meetings, flexing his wheels. ROBOR is a bidirectional robot, able to fight equally well in forward or reverse. Even his name is the same spelled backward. Heatherington says ROBOR is an acronym for "Roll Opponent Bot Off Ring". Weighing in at 492 grams, he is powered by a single 9 volt battery and uses sonar to locate his worthy opponents.


Heatherington has managed many robots, and the crowd was familiar with his string of victories. His line follower was legendary. Everyone in the crowd spoke reverently of his "Scream Machine" the beacon finder that set new land-world speed records. His methods of management were secret, but the results were part of the history of the AHRC. His reputation in the community was unmatched. He was known as a manager that really wanted to win. Few expected the competition to last long, and there was even some doubt that an opponent could be found.

Lancelot, managed by Keith Rowell is Based on the Lego Mindstorms RCX. Lancelot was named for the sensor that dropped like a knight's lance when the contest began. Rowell seems to be carefully developing his own reputation. He had surprised the crowd at the 2001 Robot Rally with his innovative Palm-driven vacuum cleaner bot. Lancelot did not have the distinctive "milk-carton" design, but Rowell's touches were unmistakable. Lancelot easily passed the qualifying competition, handily moving the test block of wood to the edge of the ring. The intimidating lance is not intended to skewer the opponent, rather to sense that opponent and then rush in that direction.

Default, managed by Galen Hussey, was the dark horse competitor. The crowd did not expect this opponent - his training was kept strictly confidential and many of the attendees were stunned when he was brought forward. In this competitor's favor was his lineage. The Hussey's were known for their innovative and imaginative techniques, and the family could be counted on to raise the level of competition. The Hussey's were famous in the club for bringing up young talent and their training regimen was held in such high esteem that aficionados spoke in hushed whispers of their stable of robots. Virtually every month, this "first family of robot builders" had impressed even the most jaded robot club member with their commitment to competition. For years the Hussey name had appeared in the winner's column of many contests. Often, they absolutely ruled the field of competition with more contestants than could be easily counted by this reporter. Many in the crowd expected a real upset when they saw this contestant enter the ring.

As the competition approached, the audience became increasingly aroused and groups of fans began chanting for their favorites. The atmosphere was charged, the smell of oil and ozone almost perceptible as the contestants milled around the staging area. Heatherington looked confident. Rowell and Hussey less so, but still they were obviously hoping for an upset. The managers gave last minute instruction to their fighters as the ceremony began.

The mini-sumo contest is steeped in ritual. Not for these fighters the baiting and banter of heavyweight boxers. There is no trash talk. Indeed, the contestants seemed to have a keen sense of decorum and bow ceremoniously before and after each heat. Honor has an important place in this type of contest. Mini-sumo is definitely not the same as professional wrestling, although the emotions run as high.

The contest began. In the ring were Robor and Default, in their first of three heats. The audience stood back, more out of respect than out of fear of flying debris, and the managers started their robots simultaneously. Five agonizing seconds later, the two robots locked in pitched battle. At first, it seemed that they wouldn't move at all. Then, slowly but inexorably, Default pushed Robor to the edge of the ring. A gasp went out from the crowd when they realized that Default had actually won the first heat! Heatherington was unfazed, however. He may have given some last minute instructions to Robor, for when the next heat began, it was obvious from the start that Robor had an upper hand. Within a few moments, the two contestants were tied at one win each. The tension was palpable. Both contestants had their supporters in the audience. Galen made last minute adjustments to the Default, which had come apart during the second heat. Rowell watched eagerly, wondering, I suppose, which of these two valiant warriors would meet up against his entry, Lancelot. A hush went over the assembly as the judge gave the countdown for the final heat of the match. The two combatants locked in a titanic struggle in the center of the ring. The two bore down upon each other. No quarter was asked nor given. When the smoke cleared, Robor was the victor. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause as the two managers bowed to each other and to the audience.

Lancelot and Rowell had their work cut out for them. The earlier competition had gotten the audience in a frenzy. They were ready for someone to be injured. Chants rose from the crowd, virtually undecipherable from the front row seats of this reporter. Now, heatherington had an air of supreme confidence, but the honor of the competition and the integrity of the contestants win out and the two bowed in their formal sign of respect for both the match and their opponent.

At the start of the first heat, Robor locked in pitched battle with Lancelot.The battle was fast and furious, as each contestant vied for a clear advantage over the other. Soon, however, Robor was able to bear down on Lancelot and slowly pushed it to the edge of the ring. This quickly lead to the second heat and the two again lunged at each other and Robor established itself as the winner with a sweep of the event. The final result, Robor, managed by Dale Heatherington, was the winner.

Default vs Lancelot

To round out the competition, and to determine the second place position. Lancelot and Default met in the ring. After three quick rounds, Default beat Lancelot two of three attempts.

Photos by Dale Heatherington .
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