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The Trinity College Fire Fighting Home Robot Contest: A Medium For Interdisciplinary Engineering Design

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.580.1 - 3.580.5

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Paper Authors

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Jacob E. Mendelssohn

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David J. Ahlgren

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3520

The Trinity College Fire-Fighting Home Robot Contest: A Medium for Interdisciplinary Engineering Design

David J. Ahlgren, Jacob E. Mendelssohn Department of Engineering Trinity College, Hartford CT 06106


In this paper we introduce the Trinity College Fire-fighting Home Robot Contest, describe some of the engineering design problems it presents, and discuss examples of work done at Trinity. Held annually on the Trinity College campus in Hartford, CT since 1995, this is the largest robotics competition in the U.S. open to contestants of any age, affiliation, ability, or experience. The goal of the contest is to stimulate interest in robotics and to encourage invention by persons of all ages. A $1,000 first prize is awarded in both the junior division (high school and younger) and the senior division (all others). The contest was expanded in 1998 to include affiliated regional events that use the Trinity College rules; at this writing, events are scheduled in Fort Worth, Calgary, and Seattle. Winners from the regional contests will compete in the final event, held at Trinity on April 19, 1998. Participation engages engineering students and professionals in a motivating, open-ended interdisciplinary project. Design of a fire-fighting mobile robot is a challenge that is appropriate, for example, as a senior engineering design project.

The object is to develop a computer-controlled, autonomous machine that can navigate through a 8 ft. by 8 ft. maze, find a fire (a lit candle), and extinguish it in minimum time. The robot must operate without human intervention; radio control and joystick control are not permitted. The walls of the maze (painted white) are 13" high, the hallways are 18" wide, and the floor is flat black. Thus the robot simulates the real-world operation of a robot performing a fire-security operation in a single-story home. The maze geometry, which is known beforehand by the contestants, includes four rooms and connecting hallways. The robot does not know where the fire is located, and the fire can be in any of the rooms. Before extinguishing the flame, the robot must navigate to within 12" of it and show that it has recognized the flame. Each robot makes three runs, which begin at a designated starting spot. The score is the sum of the fastest two run times, multiplied by reduction factors for: 1) reliability (success on all three runs); 2) obstacle avoidance ability; 3) ability to return to the starting spot after extinguishing the candle; and 4) ability to trigger the robot's run using a 3.5 KHz tone that simulates a smoke alarm. The 1998 contest encourages the development of robots that do not rely on dead reckoning. Robots will receive a deduction for succeeding when ramps, which add uncertainty about path lengths, are placed in the maze.1

Engineering Design Problems

Development of a fire-fighting mobile robot is a constrained optimization problem that can be


Full contest rules are found at the Web address:

Mendelssohn, J. E., & Ahlgren, D. J. (1998, June), The Trinity College Fire Fighting Home Robot Contest: A Medium For Interdisciplinary Engineering Design Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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