The little robot wheels down an aisle of cheerleaders and waits patiently behind the basketball hoop. He’s controlled by a group of men in green lab coats. They’re not mad scientists, but perhaps they might be Mad Ants scientists?
These men are instructors and a student worker at Ivy Tech, and for the last three years, they’ve made robots to deliver the game ball to Mad Ants games. This year, though, they switched it up. This year, the robot can shoot hoops.
“We wanted something that was a little bit more exciting that could actually make a basket,” says Bob Parker, one of the faculty members who worked on the robot. “It all started out with popping (the ball) up in the area and saying, ‘Next time, we gotta do something a little bit cooler.’”
By “a little bit cooler,” Parker also meant “a lot more involved,” too. This robot—Mad Ants 2.0, as they call it—has a number of upgrades on his grandfather, incorporating a programmable logic controller, a computer that uses sensors to control the system; speed control using pulse width modulation, a digital technique to control the monitors; and upgrades in electrical and mechanical components. Parker estimates the finished product includes 200 to 250 hours of student involvement.
The basketball-shooting robot debuted last week during a Mad Ants game, and it shot hoops against a fan. Each had 30 seconds to make as many baskets as possible. At the end of 30-seconds, Man vs. Machine ended in a tie: 2-2.
Mad Ants 2.0 can shoot free-throws or three-point shots, depending on how its handlers set up the drive, wheel speed, and alignment of the system. Right now, Parker says, the robot has a field goal percentage of just 10 or 20 percent, but he’s looking to tweak the system to improve it.
The Mad Ants admits they were worried the robot wouldn’t make any shots its first try, says Kevin Bloom, business development manager for the Mad Ants. Because admit it: It sounds kind of far-fetched. But each time the robot sunk a shot, the crowd erupted.
“Everybody’s always curious about what it’ll do and how it’ll do it and how accurate is it,” Parker says. “It’s fun to watch it.”
Bloom echoed Parker’s sentiments.
“We were really excited about the idea when we began working with the team at Ivy Tech,” he says. “They have always done something creative and unique for us, and this really put it over the top.”
Fans will participate in Man vs. Machine during the following Mad Ants home games this season, after the first quarter: Feb. 25 and March 9, 17, and 23.