SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - It’s roughly the size of a pingpong table, painted white. Black lines traverse the surface, which is flat, save for an undulating ramp in the middle and short ridges at the long sides, and, some students say, a slight slope at one end. Suspended above the table, magnet-tipped dowels hold tantalizing blocks of “cheese” foam.
This setup, as innocuous as it may appear to the casual bystander, is, in fact, the bane of the existence of the 40 students in UC Santa Barbara instructor Casey Hare’s robotics class. It’s the terrain that has challenged teams of coders and builders as they calculate, assemble, test, build and rebuild their autonomous robotic “rats.” Deceptively simple, this track is capable of laying to waste lines of code and presenting unexpected complications to the construction of the most stalwart robot.