Mechanized Basketball Theme of March Mayhem Robotics Competition

DURHAM, N.C. -– Thirty-one robots will battle it out in a mechanized-basketball competition March 1 at Duke University. Tip off starts at 6:30 p.m.

The mechanical engineering competition, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the Love Auditorium in the Levine Science Research Center on Duke’s West Campus. Parking is available in the parking garage adjacent to the Bryan Center.

Each team’s goal is to score with as many Ping-Pong balls as possible in a 2-minute round. “In previous years students quickly figured out that a claw could grab and dunk more than one ball at a time and designed their robots that way, but this year we’re trying to encourage more shooting,” said mechanical engineering professor Robert Kielb at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.

To give teams incentive to try riskier shooting, this year’s court features an unusual three baskets on each side. The tallest basket, at 18 inches off the court, earns three points per ball. Two lower baskets (9-inches high) earn teams one point for each ball.

Other changes should heighten competition and encourage diversity in design as well. In the first two years of March Mayhem, rules against fouling and interfering with the opposing team’s robot were very strict. “This year we’re allowing a lot more aggression on the field,” Kielb said. “You’ll probably see pushing, shoving and overt blocking this time, but it’s still against the rules to damage the other team’s robot.”

It’s also allowable to flip your opponent’s robot. “No timeouts, though. You get flipped and your team is done,” Kielb said.

There is a $500 prize for the winning team, with $200 and $100 prizes for second and third place. There will also be $100 prizes for best shooting, best design and best fabrication.

Duke’s Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Department in the Pratt School of Engineering organizes the March Mayhem competition each year in part to give students an outlet for their creativity and a chance to have some fun. “A contest makes design more real and exciting for students,” Kielb said.

While all students come away with a better understanding of motors, gears, pulleys, propulsion and steering, being an engineering student isn’t necessarily an advantage, Kielb said. “It’s the ‘gear heads’ who really excel in this competition -- the tinkerers who love putting things together and taking them apart.”

March Mayhem is sponsored by the Duke’s Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Department, the Lord Foundation and through the gift of free robotics kit parts from Kaye Products.