Notre Dame hosts robotic football fall combine
Gray Nocjar | Monday, November 13, 2023
The Collegiate Robotic Football Conference (CRFC) held their 2023 fall combine at Notre Dame on Saturday. The event was conducted in the Stepan Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and featured teams from four other Midwestern universities: Valpraiso University, Trine University, Calvin University and Ohio Northern University.
The CRFC manages an annual football tournament played by remotely driven robots designed individually by collegiate teams.
Robot football bears many similarities to the more traditional iterations of the game, with position-specific bots, offensive and defensive play schemes, and referees who must oversee an extensive rule book on not only in-game penalties, but also specific constraints on each bot design.
The fall combine is an early chance for teams to display their prowess in speed, maneuverability and quarterback accuracy, along with other categories.
Maria Schudt, president of the Notre Dame robotic football club, was ecstatic about her team’s performance in the combine as well as the performance of some of the newer individual bots.
“Our QB did really well. I’d have to double check but I think we got the new QB accuracy record and then we won the QB positional trophy, which is really nice,” Schudt beamed.
Schudt also touched on what the team had learned from the combine, including an issue with bot maintenance.
“We have a lot of things that break, and we don’t know why they break,” Schudt admitted. “A lot of this stuff has been grandfathered in throughout the years and we don’t clearly understand it, as we wouldn’t necessarily make the same decisions they did.”
Nathan Helgledorn, secretary of the Ohio Northern team, highlighted the improvements he has seen since joining his college’s club in 2021.
“Last year we came pretty unprepared,” Helgledorn said. “This year, we have spent a lot more time preparing our drivers to know how their bots operate and I think that’s contributed a lot to our increased performance this year.”
Timothy Zeemond, speaking as the president of the Valparaiso team, credited the successes his team experienced at the combine to “getting people involved, which was very hard during the COVID years, but we’ve done a really good job of being visible on campus.”
On his team’s design philosophy, Zeemond stressed “all our bots are pretty simple. We make a ton of them so that when they break we can just put in another one and they’re easy to fix, so we just always have a bot ready.”
In April, the colleges will compete in full eleven-on-eleven games to determine who will win the Hederman Memorial Trophy. The award is named in honor of Notre Dame student Brian Hederman who passed away in a 1995 car accident.
Hederman’s drawings of robotic football players contributed to the founding of the sport at Notre Dame a few years later. Originally an intramural competition facilitated by a capstone engineering class, an intercollegiate league was formed in 2011 with Purdue University and the United States Navy Academy.
After the results had been tallied, Notre Dame placed first overall in the combine, including top rankings in categories for best quarterback, best center and best kicker. Ohio Northern placed second with a win in the best defender competition, while Valparaiso finished third with the best running backs and wide receiver bots.