SENSORS NEEDED: The Wolves Are At The Wolfbot’s Door

A few of you may vaguely remember when a high-school science project entailed the acquisition of parts easily found at your local RadioShack, hardware store, and either your or a friend’s dad’s garage or basement workshop. Obviously this is waxing nostalgic and things have long since changed from the days one could mix a few household liquids and make a frothing volcano blow out of an empty cardboard yarn spool. Or create a functional transceiver with a razor blade and some wire. And things have certainly come an even longer way than being able to wire together a commercially-bought clock kit, put it in a small briefcase, bring it to class, and cause a near-international media-distorted incident.

Today, young folks in high school are producing highly innovative devices, sometimes so sophisticated it would be insulting to call them mere science projects. These budding scientists and engineers are quite knowledgeable of design techniques and parts used by highly paid (and some underpaid) electronics engineers. And they are also faced with the same, if not tighter, budget concerns when it comes to specifying those parts.

A case in point, the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS) is ranked in the top five high schools in California and in the top 25 in the US for math and science. This is a public, non-private, non-sectarian high school noted for producing graduates that the major tech universities line to lure into their classrooms.

Currently, a team of CAMS students are working on a highly complex robotics design project dubbed The Lycanthrope Project, Polymorphic Robotic Device. The team is required to build a wolf-like robot that’s capable of highly sophisticated motion using artificial intelligence, move around on four legs, and essentially act and think like an actual wolf, cutely named Wolfgang.

Here is a description of the project and brief portion of the requirements the students must address:

The 2016 Polymorphic Robotic Device challenge is an experiment to devise a multi-configurable robotic device.  The purpose of the challenge is to design, build and test an autonomous, dual-mode robotic system, capable of performing an autonomous seek and destroy mission, culminating in the return of a specified “enemy” target. Teams are required to conduct surveys and market studies to determine how the developed technology would be further applicable and valued in a commercial market. Proposed commercial markets must be approved by The CARPA Authority and will be used as the target market demographic for the senior interdisciplinary project.

Requirements of the dual-mode robotic device, hereafter designated code name “Wolfgang”, are as follows:

  • Wolfgang must be able to change itself from a four legged walker, into a two legged walker and be able to manipulate a one inch diameter steel ball into a cup, mounted eighteen cm off of the floor of the mission arena.
  • The device must be able to detect color and track it.
  • The device must be able to detect ultraviolet light.
  • The device must be able to detect specific sound frequencies
  • The lycanthrope must provide a live video feed to Mission Control.
  • Wolfgang must be able to wirelessly communicate with a team of “pack” robots and interact with them.
  • Wolfgang is considered a member of the pack robots
  • The pack robots must be able to walk on four legs.
  • The pack robots must be able to read RFID tags and transmit the data to Mission Control.
  • The pack robots must be able to initiate commands issued by the Mission Control Command Computer.( yes or no)
  • The pack robots must be able to seize and return the target robot to a designated “holding cell”.
  • Wolfgang must not exceed a weight limit of 8 Kg. for the full assembly. Any extra weight past the imposed weight limit will incur penalty points for the affected team. The penalty assessed will be based on the % of “overage” for the device.  For example, if the robot is 10% over its weight allowance, then a 10% penalty will be assessed against the offending team.
  • The other PackBOTs must not exceed a weight limit of 4.5 Kg. All aforementioned penalties apply, in the event of a weight violation.
  • Wolfgang must perform its mission in front of a live audience at the IDP Trade Show, tentatively scheduled for May 27th, 2016.

That’s the short list. If you would like to read the complete executive summary for the project, CLICK HERE

Now here’s one of the major hurdles the students must overcome: getting the parts. These parts are critical to meeting the executive summary requirements. These parts, to high-school students with shallow to barren pockets, can be quite expensive. Here is a list of what they need:


  1. (6x) Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), preferably 9-DOF with accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer
  2. (6x) UV light sensor
  3. (6x) RFID readers (USB or chip)
  4. (6x) Vision sensors (cameras or integrated vision processing units like Pixy)
  5. (3x) Audio sensor (small microphones or audio frequency sensors)
  6. (1x) 450V to 1 kV Capacitor 500 µf +

*NOTE: Preferably, all sensors should be compatible with Arduino or be able to interface with Linux through USB or I2C.

When design teams put prototypes together, more often than not they use engineering samples of a few, if not most, of the devices and components in the initial product. Engineering samples are free of charge to qualified engineers, i.e., those working for a legitimate company.

The CAMS students are, to anyone’s knowledge, not working for a major robotics company or industrial automation firm, so getting these critical parts could be an economical challenge. Somehow, at a time when we are striving to improve education in the US while stressing innovation, a few parts not in production volume should not be an issue. Particularly since the project in question goes beyond building a commercial clock kit and stuffing it in a suitcase.

Perhaps there’s a reader, or a parts maker, or distributor out there that might have a solution for this situation. Maybe make an exception in the requirements for receiving engineering samples and donate a few.

Should anyone have that solution or would like to discuss the benefits of this project further, they should contact CAMS team member Austin Coker by phone at 562-598-8744 or email him at [email protected]

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