LTU’s 2024 Robofest will have students design miniature autonomous taxis

SOUTHFIELD—Autonomous vehicles hold the promise of safer, more sustainable, and more inclusive transportation.

So it’s a natural that Robofest, the youth robotics competition created by Lawrence Technological University in 1999, would focus this year’s Game competition on vehicle autonomy.

This year’s Game, unveiled in a global Zoom call Friday morning, is called “Autonomous Taxi.” In the game, a robot “taxi” will pick up “passengers” (golf balls) at one end of a table and take them to destinations, boxes placed around the table, maneuvering around “pedestrians,” D-size batteries. One of the passengers must be placed on the “second floor” of a destination box. Simple bar codes will be used to identify the destinations.

Now in its 25th season, Robofest is a festival of competitions with autonomous robots offering students the opportunity to master the principles of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) and have fun. More than 34,600 students from 34 countries and 18 U.S. states have participated since 1999.

Unlike other robotics competitions, Robofest robots must be completely autonomous, controlled only by software. Barriers to entry are also lower, with a registration fee of just $75 and any small robot platform and programming language are allowed. (Robot kits for Robofest, from LEGO and other manufacturers, start at about $400.) Teams compete in Junior (grades 5-8) and Senior (grades 9-12) divisions.

This year, for the first time, Robofest teams are eligible for Michigan Department of Education robotics competition grants of up to $1,200 per team. A Robofest sponsor, the Michigan Council of Women in Technology, also offer grants of $750 for all-girl teams.

Besides the Game competition, other Robofest competitions include:

* Exhibition, in which teams have compete freedom to create interactive and intelligent robotics projects—in essence, thinking up a problem, and designing a robot to solve it.

* RoboMed, in which teams create biomedical robots and devices.

* RoboArts, in which teams create robots that perform in the visual, kinetic, or performing arts–everything from painting to sculpture to dance to jusic.

* BoittleSumo, in which teams compete to be the first robot to push a bottle—or the other robot—off a table.

* Vision Centric Challenge, an advanced machine-vision competition

* Unknown Mission Challenge, in which teams don’t learn the task their robot will have to be programmed to accomplish until the morning of the competition

* RoboParade, in which robots pull a decorated “parade float” along a parade route. This year’s parade theme is “On The Farm.”

All Robofest competitors automatically qualify for a $3,000-a-year Lawrence Tech scholarrship. Winning teams are eligible for a $17,000-a-year LTU scholarship.

Registration is now open for Robofest teams. International competitions begin in November, with U.S. competitions starting in February and concluding in April. Teams that place high in regional competitions qualify for the Robofest World Championships, to be held on the LTU campus in Southfield May 9-11. There will also be workshops for coaches and competitors over the winter. And Robofest is always looking for local volunteer host sites for its regional qualifying competitions.

Friday’s competition began with a video recap of the 2022-23 competition year, featuring teams from Canada, Mexico, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Ghana, Egypt, and across the United States.

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Lawrence Technological University is one of only 13 private, technological, comprehensive doctoral universities in the United States. Located in Southfield, Mich., LTU was founded in 1932 and offers more than 100 programs through its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, Engineering, and Health Sciences, as well as Specs@LTU as part of its growing Center for Professional Development. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report list it in the top tier of the best Midwest colleges. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

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