Tipperary Institute (TI) hosted an army of digital tanks, and one real one, at this year’s National RoboCode Programming Competition. Twenty-one 1st year students from nine colleges, north and south of the border, sent their Java-designed AI fighting machines into battle, while an audience of 115 congregated to watch the showdown. Targeted at 1st year programming students, this event was intended to demonstrate abilities in GUI programming, API usage and Artificial Intelligence. 2004 was the first year in which it was open to colleges nationwide.

The chosen arena for robotic carnage was a large computer monitor projected onto a wall in TI’s Thurles campus; information about energy levels and radar scanning was included on the screen. According to Phil Bourke (RoboCode organiser, TI lecturer, and winner of this year’s N-Gage competition with his game Fishtank Fire), the initial stages of the competition featured one-on-one battles, while the final entailed a melee round with a number of tanks fighting.

“Students were required to program various intelligences,” said Phil. “In order to win, and to avoid being hit, the tanks had to be equipped with good dodge and target mechanisms. They had to dance around the place, scanning and searching for their opponents, making judgement calls depending on the situation. The Java code base varied considerably, with everything between 50 to 400 lines of code written for each robot. The more code, the more advanced manoeuvres could be carried out, but consequently the longer a robot’s cycle-time.”

Organised code bunkers allowed student programmers to re-engineer their tanks and alter their codes after studying their opponent’s fighting styles. There were time constraints for these robotic pit stops, which served to demonstrate in real-time “the student’s programming skills and understanding of intelligent software development”. The Minister for Education and Science, Noel Dempsey TD, has expressed his support of the event, pointing to the need to “engage students, encourage excellence and support hard work” in the academic delivery of technology subjects.

Competition winners – Waterford Institute of Technology – were presented with the ICS RoboCode Challenge Trophy and each received Tadpole Laptops, Fuji A310 Digital Cameras and Siemens C60 mobile phones. RoboCode was sponsored by the Irish Computer Society (ICS), Sun Microsystems (whose Java computer language gave the electronic robots life), BCS
Computers, Siemens Mobile, the Higher Education Authority, LAN Communications, and Powerballs.com. Also in attendance were the Irish Defence Forces, accompanied by their own fully functional tank! “We told them about the competition, they liked the idea, and brought along an event recruitment programme stand along with a tank,” explains Phil Bourke.

Buoyed by the success of this year’s event, RoboCode’s TI organisers plan on making next year’s event bigger and better, with the inclusion of more college teams, public exposure, and an impartial panel of industry veterans on board to judge the students’ programming code. Rest assured: Ireland’s robotic army will battle once more come 2005.

For more information:

E-mail: mailto: robocode2004@tippinst.ierobocode2004@tippinst.ie


Winners or RoboMarshalls
Waterford Institute of Technology (Bill Malone, Leigh Griffin Patrick Ffrench)

Runners up
Queens University Belfast (Niall McLaughlin, Domhnall Wildy, James Hardaker)

DCU (Stephen Ryan, Pavlo Tishkin)
NUI Maynooth (Nicola Byrne, Stephen Fahy, Fergal Rooney)

Tipperary Institute team (Pieter Vos, David Conde)
Teams from the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, NUI Galway, Griffith College Dublin and the Institute of Technology Tralee also competed.