Robo Wars

By Derek Halsey (

Article Published: Mar. 20 | Modified: Mar. 30
Robo Wars

Spectators gather, as two contestants prepare their bots for battle at the annual Watauga Sumo Bot Lego Robot Competition, returning to ASU March 29.

Photo submitted

The annual Watauga Sumo Bot Lego Robot Competition will take place on March 29 at Appalachian State University.

The contest will be open to any and all elementary school, middle school and high school students, as well as any adults in the area who want to participate.

The deadline to enter the competition is March 21. Registration is $20, and the entry form can be emailed to Dr. Eric Marland at (

Registrations will not be accepted on the day of the contests. The entry form, rules and more information about the Watauga Sumo Bot Lego Robot Competition can be found at

The event is affiliated with the North Carolina Science Festival.

At the heart of the Watauga Sumo Bot Lego Robot Competition is the love of science — and seeing the hands-on results of working with programmable robots in a competitive setting. The rules are fairly simple, namely, “All participating robots, known as Sumo Bots, shall be constructed with unmodified Lego construction components.”

The Sumo Bot contests will take place in a circle where the contestant-programmed machines will seek out and battle each other on their own, without any human interaction once the robots are placed on the board. The last robot to stay in the circle, with the other robot either being pushed off or falling off the circle, wins that round.

For teachers who want to head up a team yet do not have Lego programmable Sumo Bots, they can go to the ASU Science and Math Education Center and borrow some robot kits to use with their students.

For those who simply want to watch this fascinating competition, the event will take place at the Grandfather Mountain Ballroom, located in the Plemmons Student Union at ASU. The demo matches begin at 10 a.m., the round robin competitions start at 10:30 a.m., eliminations begin after a lunch break at 1 p.m., and the final four matches commence at 2:15 p.m.

Overseeing the competition is the aforementioned Marland, who teaches in ASU’s Department of Mathematical Sciences.

“This is the third year that we are running it,” Marland said. “The year before we started this event, we visited another one that was held at a scientific meeting in Knoxville as kind of an outreach activity. We entered our two kids in it, and we said, ‘This seems pretty easy to do. We could do this.’ It was fun, so we decided that we would do it, because it is pretty inexpensive to run, and the kids have a great time.”

For Marland, it is the aspect of competition that he hopes will spark more interest in science in general. This event is about more than just winding up a couple of toys and letting them bump each other on a circle.

“To design and build and program the robots takes a fair bit of engineering and programming,” Marland said. “The robots have to run autonomously. They are not remote controlled. The robots also have to be able to not drive themselves off of the board. They have to able to tell where they are on the board (using sensors) and if they are about to run off it or not.”

Once the science is figured out, the Sumo Bot competitions spark the competitive spirit in all who participate.

“You don’t realize how excited a kid can get about science until you see a 12-year-old screaming at their robot, cheering it on,” Marland said. “It is pretty cool to watch. And, once they are a little bit excited, then school takes on a different meaning, because they see the light at the end of the tunnel. They can say, ‘School is more interesting, because I can see where I’m headed now.’”

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