Robocode Battle Builds Bridges
SPS Chapters on Hands-on Projects
Robocode Battle Builds Bridges
Owen Root, SPS Chapter President, Nebraska Wesleyan University
Last spring, our SPS chapter—the Nebraska Wesleyan University physics club—was in the process of revitalization. During the preceding several years the club had been practically nonexistent due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of an effective officer team. But during the 2021–22 academic year, we were determined to get on our feet again and have an active presence on campus. Coming out of the pandemic, we felt that a strong physics community was more valuable than ever.
After hosting several small events and getting back on track with regular meetings, our SPS chapter wanted to connect with students in departments that have a lot of overlap with physics, namely, math and computer science. We had brainstormed for a while but hadn’t come up with any sound ideas when one of our physics department faculty members suggested a programming game called Robocode.
None of us had heard of Robocode, but it sounded intriguing, so we started looking into it. We learned that Robocode can be a tool for improving one’s programming skills and also introduces the fundamentals of machine learning. Using the Java programming language, participants build and develop robot battle tanks that duke it out in a live-displayed digital arena. While the “physics” involved in a Robocode battle isn't exactly true to life, having an understanding of real-world physics benefits one's intuition for Robocode.
This was exactly what we were looking for. It was both fun and engaging and had something for each of the audiences we wanted to draw in. We planned a Robocode showdown for the end of the semester. Then we started weekly sessions where people from all departments could learn Robocode and develop tanks. None of us were very familiar with Java, but we struggled over it together and had fun learning the language. We also enjoyed researching strategies people had developed for the game, some of which were incredibly complex and fascinating. Others had clearly put a lot of time into Robocode, and that motivated us to improve our own bots.
After months of planning and coding, the day of the final showdown arrived. Students from every department were invited to view the competition, which we held in our university's planetarium so that we could display the battle live on the big projector screen. The event was a massive success, with a viewer turnout more than double the size of our physics club. Of the tanks built over the course of the semester, five were sophisticated enough to compete. We had tons of fun cheering them on as they fought for victory on the big screen. The competition was great publicity for our chapter and established us as a fun and strong campus community.
Get Money for Chapter Outreach Events
Marsh White Awards of up to $500 are available for chapter programs or events that promote an interest in physics or astronomy among students or the general public. Applications are due November 15. Learn more at spsnational.org/awards/marsh-white.
The SPS Observer Wants to Showcase Your Chapter
Invest in the future of your chapter and let SPS Headquarters know what you’ve been up to by submitting your SPS chapter report this spring. Chapters may be invited to share their activities in SPS publications. For details visit spsnational.org/resources/chapters/annual-chapter-reports.