Matt Bannister’s robot – a panel of wires and blinking lights atop a wooden wheeled vehicle – slammed into an island with a crash. His classmates smiled knowingly.

“We’re all laughing out of fear because that’s going to happen to all of us,” fellow engineering student Chris Saulnier, 21, said yesterday.

Twenty robots, created by teams of two, will navigate a Navy-themed obstacle course in a competition today at the gym on Dalhousie University’s Sexton Campus. The prize? Glory, and lots of it.


Bannister, 21, kicked his robot’s wheel. “They’re very finicky machines,” he said while preparing for the big event on the Halifax post-secondary school’s Sexton Campus . “It has a mind of its own entirely.”

Not quite, but the robots do act without the use of remote controls. Each one is pre-programmed to run the course.

“They have to design and build an autonomous vehicle based on a kit of parts we make available to them,” Dr. Peter Gregson, the students’ professor, said as he watched them struggle with the machines.

“These are true robots,” he said. “Unlike most robot competitions you see, these are not being driven by the students. They’re driving themselves according to their program. This will give the students the opportunity to learn a whole lot more.”

But the day before the competition, many students were still dealing with last minute robo-issues. A loud bang rang through the space as part of one team’s robot exploded.

“If you do it wrong it tends to explode. There’s been a couple fires,” Saulnier said, laughing. “We had three fires last night.”

Many of the robots have arms that look for the reflective tape along the sides of the course.

“Right now it only works about ten per cent of the time,” Saulnier said about his and partner Auyon Siddiq’s sensor. They’ll have to pull another of many all-nighters to fix the ’bot before the competition.