Espionage in Botball

Espionage in Botball: Motivation and Method
Joe McCormick
Malden Catholic High School

Espionage in Botball: Motivation and Method

1 The Necessity of Discovering Information from Other Regions

Whether a Botball team plans to travel to the Global Conference on Educational Robotics or not, finding out about other regionals can be a huge benefit. Various types of information about the other regions are beneficial in the mission plan, designing, and programming of one's robot. The information received can help with preparation for the regional, but more importantly for developing strategies for the international competition. Over the course of Botball's existence the ability to find such information has increased each year due to the increase in the use and popularity of social networking as well as the relationships between different teams.

2 Making Friends

A key aspect to finding out about other regions is friends. Most of the information acquired can be through friends by what happens at their own regional competitions. GCER itself is a perfect medium to make friends. Friendships made at GCER can persist and can be beneficial to both parties later in the Botball seasons. For example, the day before the regional competition, the robot would not shut down in via the shut_down_in function; so, a quick call to a friend from Botball in Florida and the problem was solved in about an hour. These friendships are especially facilitated through Facebook or AIM because contact can be kept during the summer and when the Botball season is beginning. The Botball Facebook group as well as fan page both help to keep in contact with fellow Botballers. The Youth Advisory Council website will be the perfect medium to keep in contact with other teams throughout the world once it is released.

3 Information about Design

The success of the mission is not only determined by the design of the robots or even the programming, it is also determined by the plan on how to complete that mission. The mission this year could have been done in many different ways. The best strategy could have been not chosen by one's team initially, but after some viewing of videos from other regions these plans could change. For example, before our strategy had been made up or our board made, a video of a create shooting a cup across the board over the surface connector was posted on Facebook (Figure 1).
Figure 1
The video with the cup flying helped our team to put the idea of pushing cups with the create out of the plan, and it had us consider in our final design which pushes cups with the CBC robot how to conquer the surface connectors. Because our board was not being built for 2 to 3 weeks after we saw this video, it enabled us to plan for difficulties with traveling over the surface connector.

Another spot to look for videos that facilitate deciding strategies is YouTube. A simple YouTube search of “Botball” yields around 2 pages of videos from this years competition that reveal runs that other teams in other regions have run. These videos help with spotting out a crucial strategy that one can overlook when designing a certain type of block for an opposed round. A third source for video came this year with the help of KIPR. As with previous years, KIPR posted pictures on the Botguy Flickr account [1]. Differing though this year is KIPR also uploaded some videos of runs in the form of mpgs for certain regionals. These were nice high quality videos that clearly displayed what teams were running in opposed rounds which enables a team to design specific opposed strategies to block those seen in the video. Any Botball related video helps when deciding which strategy is the best to run to score the most points or to defend well.

4 Information about Design

The design of the robot can be heavily changed through the use of pictures from previous and current competitors. For example as shown by last years international champions, imitation is the best form of flattery. Wesley and Ethan borrowed a design from Norman High School and it led them to be successful, so why not use that design again. Their claw design was taken in many pictures, one easy yet rarely used resource is the old KIPR documentation[2]. This site helped with the design of the lifting mechanism of our own claw because the pictures are so clear, anyone could build the now famous CBA claw(Figure 2). The Botball Flickr also shows with large images specific details of certain robots that allow their designs to be copied by other teams. In addition to these images, a few quick Google searches can lead to one's own discovery of pictures. A Google search by date immediately following a regional competition is a great aid in finding pictures from that regional. For example, following the Florida regional competition a Google search sorted by date revealed the University of North Florida has its own site for the Botball competition[3]. This site includes pictures from 2008 and then 2009, but another unique feature that would have been a prime discovery a few days prior was the entire Florida Regional was streamed live through the site. If this was noticed before, every run from the Florida competition could have been recorded and analyzed to see how different teams used mechanical designs for different tasks. As an example, through the Florida pictures, I discovered that one team was using a grapple hook to shoot out and grab out immediately. Through these pictures this design could have been copied if a team wanted to. The design of the robot is easily shown through the pictures available all throughout the web.

Figure 2

5 Information about Programming

Like all other aspects of robotics, programming can be affected by information received from other people. The programming of the robot is harder to be affected by pictures and by video, but easy through word of mouth. By talking to people in other regions, one can receive help with doing a complex task, or just see how many other people are using the camera or another sensor to complete a certain task. A comparison of two teams methods to do something, such as finding the tape, can help both teams as they adapt and improve their runs. This year especially, interregional communication was important when dealing with the highly buggy CBCs. Talks with other people to discover if they were having the same problems, or if they had discovered solutions to the many bugs in the early firmware releases helped to improve both teams by utilizing a two team approach to solve a problem.

6 Scores

The scores and results from a regional competition can be the most important for a well performing, GCER bound team. This year, differing from most, KIPR posted the actual average scores for the top placing teams in each region online [4]. But, before this was even posted, almost all of the regional scores could be discovered one way or another. The scores are best discovered by word of mouth through friends in other regions. For example, a friend in the DC regional stated “Overall, the results were actually surprising... the best seeding score was 159 (I think, I didn't follow them that closely). That wasn't the norm though. Quite a few teams (such as NDP) got 0's all three times. Most of the better teams (Lockheed Martin, Dead Robots Society, etc) scored pretty consistently at about 60-100 points. CBA did not do so hot.... they got 2nd in documentation... they didn't even place top 16 in Double Elimination though and their seeding scores were 20, 0, and 4.. Globals will certainly be interesting this year.” Another way to discover some scores is actually through people at KIPR on Facebook. Sometimes this can be a way to discover a high of a regional. For example an anonymous KIPR employee revealed the max in Hawaii after their competition (Figure 3).
Figure 3

Another way to discover some scores is to look at pictures from the Flickr and total the score based on what can be seen from the picture. Although this is an approximation it can reveal some useful information. A third source which is rarely used by Botballers is newspaper articles. If one searches Google and sorts the search by date many articles from the previous day's regional competition can be found. For example, following the New York/ New Jersey regional a quick search revealed an article on the Peddie High School Website [5]. This article stated in one of the first lines “Peddie's average score of 277.5 was the second-best point total among nearly 300 schools competing in 13 regions across the country.” Statements like these were made in many articles this year allowing teams from other regions to easily find out about the other regionals. A fourth, more personal method, is to talk to the KIPR representatives at the regional competition. Unless you have the first or second regional, they are most likely to know information about the competitions that have already taken place.

Some might say what is the benefit in finding these scores? Before regionals, these scores can help determine what type of scores a team will be up against at the competition. Also, this could determine that if a team's score is far below other regionals average they may need to change their strategy, or develop a very good opposed strategy to counteract their low performance in the seeding rounds. When preparing for GCER the scores from other regions are crucial. They could be the difference from a complete overhaul of a strategy, to some minor changes, to no changes at all. The scores of the regionals should all be expected to increase during the period before GCER, so even though the max may appear to be 300 online, that can end up being increased by 50 or more points while preparing for GCER.

7 Conclusion

Although Espionage may seem like the wrong thing to do, or the creepy thing to do. It is a very useful tool when trying to become a top ranked Botball team. The use of espionage will improve a Botball team not only for that year but for others as they build their relationships and extend their network of friends so that each year their contacts improve exponentially. These relationships will allow for information to be shared for many years through Botball.


[1] Botguy's Flickr account:

[2] KIPR Former Documentation Host Site.

[3] University of North Florida Botball Site.

[4] KIPR Regional Results.

[5] “Robots Programmed for National Success” May 19, 2009.


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