The 2020 French Robotics Cup: Evolutek takes 5th place!
Bringing together students from EPITA, IPSA and Epitech, the Parisian Evolutek association has been specialized in the creation of robots for over 20 years. The association regularly participates in the French Robotics Cup, an annual competition where teams from all over France compete in an original event. The 2020 edition was held October 28 and 29 in La Roche-sur-Yon (Vendée region), where the Evolutek team managed to make its way to 5th place in the general ranking, its best performance in nearly 10 years! The association also brought home the Team Spirit award!
Corentin Vigourt (EPITA class of 2020) cannot hide his joy. President of Evolutek and member of the association since his 1st year at EPITA, this young graduate could not have dreamed of a better time to pass the torch to the association’s new management team. Finishing his academic career in style and specialized in exploration robotics and embedded systems, Corentin is a true robotics enthusiast, with a computer engineering degree in Embedded & Realtime Systems and part of the school’s SEAL research team. We had the opportunity to speak with him about this performance, his passions and the future of this emblematic association!
First of all, how many members does Evolutek have?
Corentin Vigourt: It was a bit different this year. Before the first lockdown, we had a pretty big team. Afterwards, certain members left, and new ones arrived. In general, there are about a dozen of us working on the robots. Due to the situation this year, there were approximately twenty students working on the project, who more or less regularly participated, depending on their schedule.
Is it true that the distinctive feature of Evolutek is that it brings together students with different levels from different schools?
Yes. Having students from three different schools is one of the advantages of the association. On the one hand, there are the students from IPSA, who have more of a mechanical profile – even if Evolutek pushes us to diversify our skills – and on the other hand, there are those from EPITA and Epitech, who are mainly computer scientists – although some of them dabble in electronics on the side. The students’ levels are also highly diverse as the association is open to everyone, from 1st to 5th year students, regardless of their school or their skills. We recruit those who are interested and train them ourselves. We even have alumni who continue to participate in our association!
Is this diversity ideal for robotics?
It is, because it is a very extensive subject that does not focus on one area alone. Of course, there is the mechanical aspect to designing robots, electronics to make them work and computer science for controlling them. At Evolutek, we build our robots from scratch: we start with nothing, we collect parts, we add electronics, we test codes… And in the end, we have a finished robot that we can use on a test table, in order to participate in the French Robotics Cup.
This year, was the French Cup disrupted by Covid-19?
Normally, the competition takes place at the end of May and the theme of the event as well as the rules and regulations are revealed by Planète Sciences in September of the previous year. However, this year, the event was moved to the end of October in light of the context. This extension gave us more time to think, but at the same time, as we could not necessarily go to our work space, due to the confinement and sanitary conditions, it was not such a great advantage. In fact, the majority of the work revolves around creating the robot and the test phases carried out on a specific table (3 meters by 2 meters), which corresponds to that used in the competition. We nevertheless did what was necessary to advance the project at a distance. I even recovered one of our two robots to finish the assembly work and test the robot’s movements, while the others continued working on the code or the electronics.
What robot skills must be developed to participate in the French Cup?
There are many. First of all, the robot’s motorized base. The robot must be able to move, especially in a competition like this one, which requires a lot of back and forth movements. It must also be able to locate its position on the table. This is very important. The second component to be developed are the actuators. These allow the robot to retrieve, sort and place the different elements – this is usually the part that the more mechanically-oriented students work on. Then, there is a third part, dedicated to Artificial Intelligence. Without this, it is impossible for the robot to know where to go or when to operate the actuators. Finally, the last part concerns recognition, allowing the robot to determine the color of the elements and their layout.
What was the most complex task this year?
I would be tempted to say that it was the part related to the actuators, as it is quite difficult to manipulate plastic cups. The AI part was tricky too as the robot had to be able to make all the right decisions. However, as computer science is a leading subject at EPITA, this part was not insurmountable. In the end, I would say that the most difficult part was making the entire project function.
Do you give a name to your robots?
In fact, we usually prepare two robots for each event. This year, we decided to make two identical “twin” robots, to save time and be more efficient. We also wanted to be able to continue the contest with only one robot if the other one happened to break down. We have always used the same names for our robots for more than ten years! This stems from the time when the rules required that each team have a main robot (PAL) and secondary robots (PMI – French for “small independent modules”). So, since that time, we continue to call our robots PAL and PMI, for the sake of symbolism and tradition.
This year, the Evolutek team’s robots really stood out at the French Cup!
Yes, they did! We ranked 4th in the qualifying round, a stage where teams try to score as many points as possible in order to establish a ranking before the final rounds. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the quarterfinals. So, we finished 5th in the final ranking, a performance that Evolutek had not achieved since 2010.
Did you feel confident before the competition?
Yes, thanks to the context, as there were only 45 teams competing this year, compared to the usual 130. So, we expected to score quite well and were clearly aiming for a spot in the top 16. Most of all, we had the opportunity to carry out more tests than certain other teams, which allowed us to enter the contest with a pretty solid robot. However, we are still a bit disappointed not to have been able to go beyond the quarterfinals. We had some technical problems and ended up competing against a team that did more testing than us. That made all the difference! But we hope at least to be able to make the top 16 again and compete in the quarterfinal next year!
Let’s talk about next year. When will the 2021 edition take place? Do you already know the theme?
For the moment, the 2021 edition is scheduled for the end of May at the Parc des Expositions in La Roche-sur-Yon, a city that is a historical partner of the Planète Sciences association, which helps organize the event. After the lockdown was announced and the 2020 dates were changed, a survey was taken asking the teams what they wanted to do for the 2021 edition. In the end, it was decided that both the theme and the rules would be the same as last year. This will allow the teams that could not participate to finalize their robots and re-enter the contest. For those who have already participated, the organization committee for the French Cup has come up with other challenges to be met. Finally, the rules have been improved by taking what happened during the competition into account. Besides, I am part of the commission that oversees the rules concerning the 2022 edition, which we are currently working on.
As the theme is identical to that of last year, will you only be customizing your robots?
We are used to customizing our robots because, in addition to the French Cup, we also often participate in other competitions, such as the Belgian Cup and the Swiss Cup. In fact, these competitions are the foreign finals that select the representatives of each country for the Eurobot, European final. They follow the same rules as the French finals and usually take place before the French Cup. This gives us more time to improve our robot. For the 2021 edition, even though we theoretically have more time, we have made certain decisions, such as modifying part of the robot’s mechanics in order to achieve better scores and changing the technology used to detect the opponent so that we can move faster on the table. The goal behind Evolutek is also to allow its members to learn and to take part in projects, so that everyone is actively participating. Finally, the association will also change. A new, less experienced team will take over Evolutek. It will be in charge of changing the robot’s electronic system, which is rather old – the motor control unit dates back to 2010 and is giving us a bad time when we have to make changes to it. This promises to be a great challenge!