Physics and Astronomy


Robot Balloon Pop

Objective The Robot Event will involve building a robot to pop balloons.
Purpose To encourage and demonstrate creativity in design, algorithmic thinking, simple programming, and teamwork.
Participants Teams of up to six

Supplied by the Teams

Teams are responsible for supplying their own base Lego Mindstorms robotics kit for construction of their robot. (Either the older Robotics Invention System (RIS)/Team Challenge kit or the newer NXT kit will do.) Many, or most, secondary schools have access to these kits as part of their computer science or computer engineering and technology programs.

The organizers have access to a small number of the older RIS kits that may be borrowed for this competition if one is not available at your school. These will be made available on a first come first serve basis; contact Laura Reid at 519-661-2111 ext. 86905 for more information. If you are unfamiliar with Lego Mindstorms robotics, a brief tutorial or workshop can also be arranged, time permitting. Please note: our kits are very old now and missing some pieces.

Teams should also bring a laptop (or controlling device) with the necessary software in case they need to do minor adjustments to their robot. In our experience, laptops seem to do better than cellphones in a noisy Bluetooth environment; teams might want to keep that in mind.

Supplied by the Judges

Other materials for constructing a simple ring for the competition will be provided by the judges. (The ring will likely be quite simple, using wood or other materials to wall off and contain the robots OR it may just be a ring outlined with masking tape)

Balloons will also be provided, as well as pins and tape to be attached to robots at the competition to facilitate the balloon popping. These materials will be assembled and provided on site by the time participants arrive.

Spare batteries will also be available on-site, in the event of battery failure.

Lastly, a stop-watch is also required for time keeping purposes, as discussed below.


For the Balloon Popping event, teams of participants will be competing against one another, with teams being paired off in heats. The winner from each pairing will proceed on to the next round in a (Single Elimination) tournament fashion, until an ultimate winner can be decided from each heat. Then the winner that popped the most balloons and won the most heats will be declared the ultimate winner.

Each heat will be comprised of 3 battles, the winner of 2 of the 3 battles moves up to the next round.

The goal of each team is to develop and program a robot that will pop all of the balloons on their opponent's robot before it can do the same to their balloons. While a team can choose to develop an autonomous robot that competes entirely on its own, it is likely best to develop a robot that can be controlled by the team during the competition. (For example, by being steered using the touch sensors in the robotics kits.) Teams can choose to design their robot for speed, handling, evasive capabilities, ability to pop balloons, and so on. Experimentation and testing will be required to develop the best design for your strategy.

Before arriving at the competition, teams:

  • must enter only one robot. Thus if a high school plans to enter two or more separate robots, each robot must have 1-6 students per robot. A student can only be involved with ONE of the schools robots and can NOT help or participate on any other additional robots that the school submits.
  • must pre-build and program their robot using a base kit, with no extension or special add-on kits.
  • must use 3 or less motors
  • may add a few extra lego block pieces that were not included in the kit to the robot for visual appeal but can NOT use lots of extra lego block pieces for strength or to give an unfair advantage. The judges will use their discretion to decide if a robot has an unfair amount of extra lego pieces.
  • may use blue tooth/wireless technology for the remote (a team may bring a laptop for example to control the robot) or use short cords or use long cords to control the robot or may build an autonomous robot that runs on its own.
  • may use any of the sensors included in the base kit.
  • Each robot must have a place on the back to mount 3 balloons.

Before starting the competition:

  • each team that is using a laptop to control their robot MUST have a working fully charged battery on the laptop due to the fact that there is a limited number of power outlets in the area where this event is normally held.
  • each team using bluetooth must come to the event area with the bluetooth pairing already completed. The number of robots within the area causes confusion if pairing is attempted at the event, The team can even pair their device right outside the Olympics building just before entering.
  • the judges will use masking tape on the floor to indicate the borders of the ring. Note: the judges have no control over which room is picked to run the event. The floor may be carpeted or it may be linoleum.
  • the judges will supply each team with ONE pin and tape. The team may position the pin a the location that will give them the best chance of popping their opponents balloon. Teams may NOT arrive with their own pin attached to the robot.
  • based on where the opponent positions their pin, the judges will attached the 3 balloons to the robot at a position of the judges choosing. The judges will try to put the balloons on the back of the robots and at a height such that the opponent's robot has a chance of popping the balloons.
  • your ballons must be accessible to the opposing team, if it is deamed that your design is unacceptable in this fashion then it might have to be modified on site, if you have questions about this please email the coordinator.
  • if the judges feel the team has not followed the rules (example: used parts from more than one kit), the team will given 5 minutes to modify the robot in order to meet the requirements of the rules.

During the competition:

  • Each round can have up to 3 battles (2 wins out of 3 moves a robot to the next round). A battle will last 90 seconds. The first team to pop all 3 of its opponent’s balloons wins that battle. If all 3 balloons are not popped in the allotted time, then the team that popped the most balloons will win.
  • If neither team pops any balloons in the allotted time, or pop the same number of balloons, there will be a 1 minute sudden death battle where the first team to pop one of their opponent’s balloons is declared the winner. If after 1 minute of sudden death, no balloons are popped, then this round will be considered a tie.
  • If the 3 battles end up in a tie (one win for each team and one tie say) the judges will flip a coin to see which team moves to the next round.
  • after a battle, the teams will have no more than 5 minutes to make any repairs to their robot and then battle the same robot again.
  • the team that wins 2 of the 3 battles will move on to the next round.
  • if, during a battle, a remote controlled robot moves out of the ring, the person controlling the robot has 10 seconds to use the remote to make the robot move back into the ring, if more than 10 seconds elapse before the robot is back in the ring, than the other team wins by default.
  • if an autonomous robot (one without a remote) moves outside of the ring, the team may pick the robot up and move it back into the ring with no penalty.
  • if a robot tips over or is knocked over or gets trapped in a location that it can not maneuver out of, it must remain in that position for 10 seconds while the opposing robot attacks, after 10 seconds the judges will move both robots back to the starting position in the ring. If parts fall off the robot, but the robot is still maneuverable, then play continues.
  • if a robot is controlled by a wired remote, the person controlling the remote may walk in the ring to control the robot but must not stand in the way of the opponents robot at any time. If both robots are wired, both teams must make every effort to not get tangled up with the other team.

If in doubt about what is allowed, please contact the Event Coordinator for more information.

NOTE: it is expected that teams will participate in a manner and a spirit intended for the Science Olympics. The aim of the Olympics is not to win at all costs, rather to use creativity, ingenuity and smarts to create a clever robot. If it is felt by the judges that a team or some team members are not abiding by the rules in the true spirit of the competition, then the team may be warned, points deducted, or removed from the competition.


Since this is a knockout competition, there is no limitation of the number of awards that may be won by a single school. Thus if the top three robots are from Basingstoke B, Basingstoke A and Basingstoke C, then Basingstoke will win all three awards.


As mentioned above, judging is based on the popping of balloons during the event. Judges will also be in charge of timing the event, and making calls about which balloons popped first in case of doubts this way.





Mahmoud El-Sakka, Department of Computer Science, The University of Western Ontario (Phone: 519-661-2111, ext. 86996)

Main Lego Mindstorms Web Site: http://mindstorms.lego.com/

These and other similar events have been successfully held by the Outreach committee of the Department of Computer Science. They can accommodate a wide range of age groups and experience among participants.

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