Vacuum Contest Rules

Revision v2.3 April 15, 2008

Note:  AHRC no longer runs the vacuum contest at the Robot Rally.

Vacuum arenaGeneral Description:
The Atlanta Hobby Robotics Club will hold a household vacuum robot competition at the Robot Rally©. The contest objective is to create a task-oriented robot to autonomously vacuum a typical household room. The robot should be able to navigate around ordinary objects without damaging them, while providing a level of cleaning comparable to a manually operated vacuum or good carpet sweeper. Testing will be done in a simulated room, complete with a chair, floor lamp, and speaker-box.

Judging will be based on the quantity of "dirt" that the robot is able to remove from the simulated room. Each robot will be allowed two or more three-minute trials. Scores will be based on the best trial. Robots that return to the start box before the three-minute time limit has expired score a "recharge" bonus. Prizes will be awarded to the three robots with the best scores.

Statement of Intent
This contest is an attempt to create a simplified real-world problem that can be solved with today's robot technology.
Robots created for this contest should be safe and portable for domestic applications.
Small groups should work together to generate team entries - good vacuuming is a nontrivial task.
Vacuum robots created to compete in this contest should be ready-to-use on both domestic and business carpets.

Contest Specifications:
Robot or Robot Swarm may be up to 30lbs total. The robot should be able to clean a carpeted area of 64 square feet on one charge. The simulated room or "arena" will be bounded by four walls, each one 6 inches tall. The walls are made from laminate counter top material antique ivory or white in color. The arena will be fully carpeted with a generic dark gray office carpet. There will be one black touchier style standing floor lamp. The lamp will be connected to a simulated outlet by a short electrical cable. There will also be one 1 x 1 x 1.5 -foot box designed to simulate a stereo speaker. Last but not least, there will be a metal folding chair. The folding chair will be beige in color, made by Sampsonite. Click to see pictures of chair, lamp and drawings of the arena.

Beacons and cameras may be installed to help with navigation. Height of Beacons and cameras will be limited to four feet and must be placed outside the wall. Beacons may be active or passive. No more than four beacons will be allowed. Beacons must be placed about the arena in such a way that their removal will not damage the arena itself. Lighting of the room will vary, but will probably be fluorescent lights, theater style track-lights, and a few high intensity "camera lights." There may also be trusses around the outside and above of the arena to hold the camera and lights. The camera feeds will not be available to robots. Expect flash photography to occur during the competition. Room pattern storage may be programmed or learned.

Vacuum contest An eight by eight square arena will be used for competition trials. No vision and/or tracking systems will be required, although any system may be used. Random motion around the test arena will be allowed as long as robots do not damage the lamp, box, chair or walls.

RFID Tags will be added under the arena carpet for those competitors that want to implement RFID. The floor lamp, chair and box (obstacles) will be centered over orange "markers" - robots that push them off of their markers will be penalized. Spot markers are not visible under the obstacles unless they have been pushed more than ¼ inch in any direction, therefore if a marker is visible after a time-trial, the "dirt" weight will be reduced by 20 percent.

There is a $15 registration fee for the first robot, and $5 for each additional. No extra charge on a robot swarm team. Registration deadlines will be posted in the Robot Rally Registration guide. Click here for information on registering.

The contest arena:
One folding chair that is beige or black in color.
One Floor lamp with power cord. The lamp base is circular with a diameter of 12 inches.
The lamp power cord will lay flat, exiting the arena underneath the center of the proximate wall.
One "speaker" box (1' x 1' x 1.5') painted a flat-black color, weight 10 lbs. (no magnets will be used)
Dark gray, Short level-loop (office type) carpet.
Walls are 6" high laminate counter top material antique ivory or white in color. Club and sponsor logos may be on walls.
Rice will be evenly distributed over the carpet.
Contestant may add up to four temporary active or passive stationary beacons to the arena. Height of beacons and cameras will be limited to four feet and must be placed outside the wall. No more than four beacons will be allowed.
One "start-box" that is 2'x 2' large, marked off in white carpet tape or masking tape in one corner of the arena.
RFID Tags will be placed under the arena at 1 foot grid spacing with the first RFID Tag “A01” spaced approximately 6 inches from each wall at the recharge corner at the bottom left corner of the arena.
RFID Tags will respond to 13.56 MHz under the Icode2 protocol. Three ASCII characters will be present in the tags when they are read. One alpha character(A..Z) to represent the vertical axis of the grid and two numeric characters(00..99) to represent the horizontal axis of the grid. All remaining characters should be ignored. RFID information and products can be found at

Construction restrictions and safety issues

  1. No combustion engines will be allowed.
  2. No explosive components will be allowed.
  3. All robots must be battery powered, no electrical cords can be used for power.
  4. Robots may not use inks, liquids or powders to mark any area of the carpet.
  5. Tethered navigation will not be allowed - no robot may trail a string or cable behind it.
  6. Pushing obstacles off of their markers will result in a penalty since this could be dangerous to people and pets.
  7. Robots must be autonomous. No operator intervention is allowed during the time-trial.
  8. RF or infrared links to remote computers is OK provided there is no human intervention at either end.
  9. Robot systems and subsystems must comply with federal, state and local regulations.
  10. Robots must not be larger than 18” x 18” square, and must be no taller than two feet high.
  11. Robots must be ready to roll when called upon - no less than 5 minutes after the previous trial ends.
  12. Robots can weight up to 30lbs.

Scoring is based on Coverage and a recharge bonus.

Coverage - as measured by the quantity of "dirt" removed from the contest carpet.
The contest arena will be covered with one half pound of long grain rice prior to each robot trial. Spreading will be done by the judges. Measurement via a scale will take place immediately following each trial. Cups and bags that cannot easily be emptied must be weighed empty before and after each trial.
Scales will measure the "dirt" recovered from the carpet to a resolution of 1/10 of an oz.

Bonus - given if robot can self-recharge by locating a charging station or power socket
Robots must leave and subsequently navigate back to the start box to score a recharge bonus. They must be completely within the start-box border with the vacuum stopped in order to score a bonus. That includes all members of a swarm. The recharge bonus will be worth 2 times the weight of the rice picked up.

Penalty - robots must not push or move objects in a room
Each time an obstacle is moved off its "mark" by a robot. The robot will be penalized. The penalty will amount to a 20 percent reduction in the "dirt" weight used to calculate the score. A robot can only be penalized once per obstacle per time trial i.e. a robot will not be penalized twice for moving the same obstacle two times in the same time trial. Penalties are additive: the maximum penalty for moving all obstacles is 60 percent.

The following formula will be used to score the robots in the contest: (all weights in decimal ounces.)

Recharge bonus = dirt weight * 2

Score = dirt weight squared + Recharge bonus


1. Robot picks up 6 ounces of dirt but fails to return to the starting square.

score = (6*6) + 0 = 36

2. Robot picks up 6 ounces and returns to the starting square for recharge bonus

score = (6*6) + (6*2) = 48

3. Robot picks up 6 ounces but moves the chair off it's marks and returns to starting square.

dirt weight = 6 * 0.8 = 4.8

score = (4.8 * 4.8) + (4.8 * 2) = 32.64

Click here to use a JavaScript score calculator and see how well your robot may perform.

The contest judges reserve the right to disqualify any robot for subversion of the rules or intent of this contest. Judges have the final word in interpreting the contest rules.

Arena Drawings

Chair pictures

Lamp Pictures

Contest Prizes
Prizes will be awarded for First, Second and Third Place entries. Planned prize awards will be posted on the web pages.

Video Tape
The Atlanta Hobby Robot Club reserves the right to Video Tape and offer for sale any portion or all of the contest or program.
For more info contact the Atlanta Hobby Robot Club, or contact AHRC via our contact page.

Arena Drawing


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