Event: UBC students race Mario Kart robots

Seventeen teams of UBC engineering physics students will race fully autonomous robots head-to-head in a Mario Kart-themed competition on Thursday, August 10.

Points will be awarded for completing laps of the course as well as picking up and holding onto mystery blocks and coins. There’s a catch: one of the mystery blocks is a “bomb” that, if picked up or tipped over, will force a lap restart and a loss of any points scored on that lap. Each robot is also allowed to drop one “banana” (an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of coloured paper designed to fool the competition’s sensors) and one “bomb” of their own. After several rounds, the team with the most points wins, taking home the coveted winners’ jackets.

“The students have been working on these robots all summer and things have really intensified in the last few weeks. Students are here from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every weekday and we’ve even been opening the lab on weekends,” says Dr. Andre Marziali, professor and director of the UBC engineering physics program.

“For some students, this is the first time they’ve used hand tools, let alone microcontrollers, semiconductors and custom software, so it’s amazing to see the progress they make in a few short months. We couldn’t figure out how to make the red heat-seeking turtle shells, which feature in all Mario Kart games, but this competition should be pretty fun. It’s the first time in more than a decade that we’ve allowed robots to run head-to-head, so we’re expecting some fireworks.”

These students will graduate in several years and go on to build the next generations of robots, quantum computers and medical technologies, with many founding and leading tech companies in B.C., added Dr. Marziali.

“Two of B.C.’s biggest recent tech success stories, AbCellera Biologics and Precision Nanosystems, were both founded by our graduates. The skills really do start here.  If you can build a truly autonomous robot at the end of your second year of university, that’s a great head start on a high-tech career.”

Event: Mario Kart robot competition

Date/Time: Thursday, August 10 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

Location:  Hebb Theater, 2045 East Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1 (map)

Parking: North Parkade, 6115 Student Union Boulevard V6T 1Z1 (map)

Interview opportunities: Program director Dr. Andre Marziali, instructor Dylan Gunn and students

Assignment editors: Event starts at 10 a.m. sharp; please arrive at least 30 minutes early to set up cameras.

More info: Preparing for the competition (photos), competition rules