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Notre Dame’s robotic football team builds their perfect play

| Monday, November 18, 2019

Although varsity football is a prominent aspect of Notre Dame culture, there are many other kinds of football teams and leagues present on campus, from women’s flag football intramurals to men’s tackle interhall. Notre Dame is also home to the reigning national champions robotic football team. 

The team builds robots to play eight-on-eight football against other universities, senior Zach Kowalczyk, who serves as president, said. 

The league consists of four schools that compete every spring for a national championship trophy, and the teams often schedule scrimmages for fun, experience for new members, to test out new projects and practice, Kowalczyk said. 

The team’s first scrimmage of the school year was Nov. 9 against Purdue. 

“We ended up winning in overtime, which is pretty exciting,” Kowalczyk said. “I’m pretty sure it was the first overtime ever in robotic football history.”

New member freshman Angela Rauch said she really enjoyed the scrimmage. 

“It wasn’t like anything I had seen before,” Rauch said. “It was a lot of fast-paced robots moving back and forth and people yelling. It was very exciting.”

Kowalczyk said the league includes Notre Dame, Valparaiso University, Ohio Northern University and Purdue Kokomo. 

Notre Dame’s team has about 50 to 60 members this school year, mainly from the college of engineering. He said it is bigger than usual this year due to recruiting efforts and the high number of interested freshmen. 

“Having that many people means we can get a lot more done,” Kowalczyk said. 

Games are played on basketball courts with teams on the sidelines. Each team member drives their own robot and plays their own position via playstation controllers. 

“All the robots are specialized for their positions,” Kowalczyk said. 

Kowalczyk used the quarterback robot that can take snaps and hand-off the ball to the running back as examples of the specialized robots. 

The rules are pretty close to collegiate football rules, Kowalczyk said. 

He said the main difference is how the scoring process works. 

“Because throwing passes is such a difficult engineering feat, you end up getting points for completing passes, and depending on how far the pass, and whether or not you retain the pass, you get a different number of points,” Kowalczyk said. 

In robotic football, completing a pass doesn’t mean catching it. 

“Completing a pass is throwing a ball from your quarterback robot and having it hit a receiver robot, anywhere on the robot,” Kowalczyk said.

On a week-to-week basis, the team does a lot of engineering work on the robots with several design projects. 

“Right now we are building a new center [robot] and a new quarterback [robot], as well as repairing our old robots in different ways,” Kowalczyk said. “We have a lot of members of the club that don’t necessarily play the games, but they are there to help do the design work.”

At every practice, the team breaks into smaller teams concentrating on specific robots. 

Rauch works on the quarterback robot team, and within it, she works with a smaller group developing a ranging system for the robot. 

“The three of us working on that project take what the leader says we need to work on and then we go and we do research. We just got our censors in, so we are starting to implement things and tests,” Rauch said. 

At the end of practice, the teams goes over what they accomplished in their areas.

As for new members, not much experience is necessary to join the team. 

“We teach them all the things that they need to know, and it’s a great way for them to learn things they might not learn in classes, or get to use the things they are learning in their classes in a hands-on, productive way,” Kowalczyk said. 

Rauch spoke to her experience as a new member. 

“It’s a lot of new information. Obviously because I am a first year I don’t really know a lot of the technical side of things,” Rauch said. “The team I’m working on is mostly seniors and they’ve all been very welcoming and very willing to explain even the littlest terms to me.”

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