Sumo Robots Learn to
Andrea C. Sledge, Central Washington University,
Ellensburg, Washington, email@example.com
James Hendricks, Southridge High School, Kennewick,
Project Sumo Robot
a high interest, high technology learning activity to high
school students with career path interests in science and
a high interest, high technology leaning activity to be
disseminated for replication;
complex entry level skills and abilities presently used in
the research and development industry;
potential popularity of sumo robot competitions as
sports in high school; and
an enriched experience for a teacher intern in the use of
educational technology and interdisciplinary team
Secondary school teachers in two courses, Senior
Engineering Technology and Language Arts, designed
Seniors in these two courses
The teacher intern provided instructional support and
delivery over the course of an academic year.
The university faculty supervised the teacher intern and
collaboration with the classroom teachers through bi-
What do the students do?
complete a senior project for the Electrical Engineering
build mini sumo robots from basic electronic
program the robots; and
compete against other schools in mini sumo robot
problem solve and troubleshoot to configure and design
sumo robots for peak competitive performance; and
build skills looked for in entry-level electrical engineers.
A mini sumo robot is…
a small, autonomous, mobile robot with infrared
sensors located on the bottom of the chassis
capable of traveling across a three-foot diameter
circular arena called a “dohyo” (black surface with a 1”
built from simple off-the-shelf kits to elaborate custom-
built machines with enormous microprocessor power
and high torque motors
What happens in a sumo robot
When infrared light from the sumo robot is reflected
from the white line, the sumo robot receives an input
The robot’s program will stop its drive wheel motors,
back up, turn around, then travel forward again across
Random collisions occur between the robot opponents,
which lead to pushing matches.
Eventually, one robot will push its opponent off the
The PT3 grant funded :
an interactive, computer assisted whiteboard for lesson
presentation and idea development;
portable USB-connected hard drives to store and
transfer large volumes of student movie data between
basic electronic components for twenty mini sumo robot
the manufacture of twenty printed circuit boards by a
commercial supplier; and
servomotors for twenty mini sumo robots; and
a video camera.
Students completed a series of integrated
detailed and individually written technical reports;
CAD drawings using 3-D parametric modeling
electronic schematic and printed circuit board
development using industry standard software;
a promotional movie to highlight their product; a web
site containing all aspects of their research; and
a tournament between the secondary school students
and engineers interested in robotics.
A panoramic photo of the sumo robot competition. Photo by Gabe Guillen
In the Dohyo
The competing robots are placed on the arena.
The designers simultaneously pressed the sumo robot
start buttons at the command of the referee. (The robots
were preprogrammed to start five seconds after the
button was pressed.)
When the robots began to move, music played over the
The robots started to travel across the 36-inch diameter,
black arena with a white line painted around the
The robots eventually collided, and began
pushing each other. Sometimes they got tangled
and appeared to perform a “dance”.
The referee had the authority to stop and restart
the bout after 15 seconds of non-contact or
Eventually, one robot pushed the other off the
Robots advanced through the tournament chart for the
final battle between two finalists.
The champion was determined after winning two out of
three bouts. A team of secondary students won the
tournament with their mini sumo robot named “Shade.”
“Shade,” the winning sumo robot. Shade was built by a team of two students from the
Science and Technology Academy.
The Language Arts
The Science and Technology Academy is made up
blocked classes with Language Arts and Science.
The Senior Language Arts class played a major role in
the sumo robot project in developing the documentation
of the student-created technology.
Types of Documentation
Sumo Robots Learned to Write
a multimedia presentation of research (information
collection, organization, and analysis);
a parts list that included a technical description of each
editing of the Sumo Challenge document for language
a lab book documenting the Sumo Robot design
four technical reports;
creative writing (short story, poem, jokes);
videos (instructional documentary, promotional music,
a sumo robot web site;
a business and marketing plan and public relations
items (name, business cards, advertising flyer, video);
research reports and creative writing in global studies,
science, math; social studies, music; and
multimedia presentations marketing student
The Year-Long Teacher Intern – the
a Language Arts/Drama major
participation in the Sumo Robot Project through
the academy’s Language Arts class (one period
taught or co-taught the integrated assignments
related to technology, such as the technical
writing, poetry and movie creation during the
quarter of her formal student teaching
Screen capture image of an initial web page for the web site about sumo robots.
The University Faculty Member –1st
liaised with the participating teachers
provided expertise in content area literacy (reading and
writing to learn).
supervised of the teacher intern before and during the
student teaching term
The faculty member observed the teacher intern every
two weeks, on average.
She was videotaped on a regular basis in the Language
Supervision of the teacher intern
This software was used in the direct and video-taped
observations of the intern.
Behaviors were recorded as timed or tallied data.
The software generated reports describing duration,
frequency and sequence of behaviors.
These data and related reports became one of the bases
for feedback to the interns.
The Collaboration –
Anomalies & Challenges
The faculty member’s discipline was Literacy
Education, with expertise in reading and writing in
The year-long intern was a Drama and English
Language Arts major -- no Technology Education pre-
service teachers could participate, given their course
The project was designed and scheduled for
implementation prior to the high school joining the
Inquiry learning was one of the instructional
frameworks common to the Science and Technology
Science and Technology Academy teachers were well-
versed in engineering and/or instructional technologies,
with instructional technology already a part of their
The distance between the university and the project site
Curriculum Redesign & Institutionalization of
The students in the Science and Technology Academy
had a pre-existing interest in and comfort with
Advanced Technology Courtesy of
In the Engineering Technology class, students learned…
designing and using printed circuit boards;
creating circuit schematics with Protel DXP;
editing code for microprocessors;
creating technical drawings with SolidWorks and
creating animation movies with SolidWorks, Flash,
Maya or other software;
creating video short films related to the sumo robot
design or performance; and
designing web sites which incorporated the ProtelDXP
schematic and circuit board designs, SolidWorks
animations, and AutoCad and Rhino drawings.
In Senior Language Arts, students
enhanced their word processing and research skills
created QuickTime movies as part of the Senior-to-
Senior and college applications projects.
The secondary teachers:
gained access to additional technology resources
enhanced technologies that were part of their existing
teaching practice: microprocessor circuits for the sumo
robots and provided small format videotaping equipment
used for course video projects
New Teacher Technology
The year-long intern participated in the Sumo Robot
project through the Science and Technology Academy
Senior English/Language Arts class (students designed
She learned, in support of the senior projects in the
English course and the technical writing of the Sumo
Robot project design and competition:
how to use small format videotaping equipment
how to create QuickTime movies
The PT3 grant purchased a laptop computer for her use
during the course of her participation in the grant.
Faculty Technology Enhancement
The faculty member learned:
STEPS, the observational software used as part of the
supervision of the teacher intern
how to use small format videotaping equipment
The PT3 grant provided a laptop computer on which
this software resided.
An additional research project is planned using the
STEPS software to record and analyze tutor behaviors
in pre- and in-service literacy courses. She learned
At Southridge High School
The Sophomore Engineering Technology class was the
new context for the design of sumo robots.
Students and staff continued to use the educational
technology acquired with PT3 funding on a daily basis.
The PT3 project work gathered momentum with
technology design updates and more dissemination
resulting in more students and teachers involved from
Some seniors involved in the first year of Project Sumo
Robot and for the Engineering Technology teacher had
summer internships in industry.
At the University
No PT3 teacher intern involved in Project Sumo Robot
Efforts to link university courses with the Science and
The university faculty member spoke to the Science and
Technology Academy teachers to identify learning
activities for which they wanted development support.
The idea was that secondary teaching majors, as part of
their course requirements for a reading in content fields
course, would design activities that addressed these
Sophomore and Senior Language Arts teachers
identified several potential projects. (Only one of these
related directly to Science and Technology – “The
Perfect School,” a collaboration between the Drafting
and Sophomore Language Arts classes.).
As part of the requirements of the pre-service reading
course, student teams designed Problem-Based Leaning
Students were grouped by content areas that related to
each of the teacher-identified projects and were
assigned to a quarter-long project. They included
aforementioned “The Perfect School,” college selection
investigation, independent study of novels, conditioning
programs for cheer squads, and enrichment English
programs for gifted students.
At the end of the quarter, these PBL units were
submitted to the teachers for their review and feedback.
Sumo robots “learned to write” as they “learned to
High school engineering technology students learned
design skills that were relevant to industry.
High school engineering students used writing for
multiple career-related purposes.
Technology supported the acquisition of both sets of
knowledge, skills, and abilities in authentic contexts.
The strategy of just-in-time technology training
provided a teacher intern with competencies to carry
into her own classroom, and provided the university
faculty with a methodology to enhance supervision of
preservice and inservice teachers in tutoring and