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Space Elevator Ribbon Climbing Robot Competition Rules

Name of Event: Space Elevator Ribbon Climbing
Robots per Event: One
Length of Event: 3 minutes
Robot Weight Range: 0-1 kg (0-2.2 lbs)
Robot Dimensions: 10 cm long by 10 cm wide by 30 cm high
Arena Specifications: 20 cm high by 20 cm wide by 2-6 meters high
Robot Control: Autonomous
Engineering Principles: Electrical Engineering, Solar Energy, Mechanical Engineering
Event Summary: A robot must collect light energy and climb a thin ribbon under it's own power.


Space lies but 100 miles away - straight up. However, the current expense of getting to space - around US$10,000 per kilogram to via the Space Shuttle, keeps us from getting there as much and as often as we might.

The Space Elevator brings the cost down to a reasonable level, and gives us "access to anywhere" - the Moon, Mars, asteroids and beyond.

In October of 2002, John Young, former Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle astronaut and current Associate Director (Technical) at NASA's Johnson Space Center, issued the following statement: "In order to save the human race we must develop the technologies that will allow us to live and work on other places in the Solar System."

Young's memo concludes that the human race is at significant risk from normal Solar System and Earth evolving events; "SINGLE PLANET SPECIES DO NOT LAST and we have no idea how much time we have."

Though Young did not mention the Space Elevator specifically, detailed NASA-funded studies conducted by Dr. Bradley Edwards show how we can build it in the near term (years, not decades) and for a price on the order of US$10 billion - on par with other major engineering projects. See http://www.HighLiftSystems.com for more.

So, our mission is urgent. Build a "ribbon to the stars" and help guarantee the long-term future of humanity.


  1. Mission Profile - Build a robot to climb a thin plastic ribbon in minimum time, performing 1 five second pause on ground command, then stop automatically at the top. Score higher for using only "beamed up" vs. on-board power.
    1. Inspection - verify size, weight, power, control and other parameters to satisfaction of judges.
    2. Pre-Ascent - Operator places robot on base panel in position on ribbon, and activates it as needed to await Referee's start command. The operator is required to get the bot attached to the ribbon in 60 seconds or less, or suffer a 1:1 second penalty against scoring, to be added to "T" for every second beyond the first 60.
    3. Start Command - When Referee gives verbal start command and begins mission timer. On hearing start command operator activates robot via non-contact method.
    4. Ascend - Robot climbs ribbon.
    5. Pause command - At some time during ascent phase, the Referee shall issue a verbal Pause command. On hearing Pause command, the robot operator will transmit a pause signal to robot. The Referee will issue one and only one Pause command during each mission.
      1. Robot must stop and remain in place, not moving upwards or downwards, for 5 seconds.
      2. After 5 second pause robot may automatically continue ascent.
      3. The five second pause counts as part of the total mission time.
      4. Failure to perform the pause within 5 seconds of the Referee's command will result in a zero score for that Mission.
    6. Stop - When the ascending robot makes physical contact with the top panel, the referee will stop the mission timer. The robot must stop automatically and remain in place, not moving upwards or downwards. The referee will record the total elapsed time for the mission.
    7. Remove - the operator may then remove the robot from the ribbon at the top platform.
  2. System Components
    1. Ribbon - Thin polyethylene ribbon*, 30 mm (1+3/16") wide, 2 to 6 meters high, depending on limits of contest venue.
      * Specifically "Red Flagging Tape" #17021, manufactured by C. H. Hanson Company. Available as Ace Hardware Store item #20905, $1.29 for 300 foot roll (as of October 2002).
    2. Base Panel - Flat 20 x 20 cm square area, with ribbon anchored securely through slot at center.
    3. Top Panel - Flat 20 x 20 cm square area, with ribbon anchored securely through slot at center.
  3. Climbing Robot Design Restrictions
    1. Control - Robot must receive all commands from it operator via a non-contact, non-tethered method such as infrared, optical, radio or other. Once placed on the Base Panel and readied for ascent, operator may not have physical contact with robot until the end of the mission.
    2. Size - At start of climb, robot must fit inside of 10 x 10 x 30 cm box. After receiving "start" command from ground control, robot may deploy and expand to any size. All parts of robot must ascend, no parts may be left on base, on ribbon or dropped at any time during mission.
    3. Weight - At start of climb, entire robot must weigh 1 kilogram or less. Weight of remote control, ground power systems or other components that do not ascend are not considered as part of weight.
    4. Power - Robot may be powered by any non-combustion method. Power can be provided to robot in two forms, which greatly affect scoring.
      1. On-board power - robot has all power for duration of mission at start of ascent.
      2. Ground-based power - robot receives all power from a ground-based source that is NOT physically connected to robot. Ground-based power may be transmitted to robot via non coherent or coherent (laser) visible or infrared light, microwave or other controlled method.
      3. No aspect of a robot and its power system must present any danger to participants or onlookers. Judges shall reserve final word on all safety aspects, and may prohibit use of any system or method which may present a danger, at their sole discretion.
      4. Power transmission systems may be automatic or manual (example, ground based high intensity search light may be manually operated to shine light on solar cells carried by the robot). However no part of the power transmission system may extend higher than 30 cm above the surface of the Base Panel at any time during the mission.
      5. Tesla coils or other disruptive high-voltage power broadcast methods to transfer power to robot may NOT be used.
      6. Pressurized air, water or other purely physical methods of power transfer may NOT be used.
      7. As missions powered by ground-based sources receive significantly higher scoring factors, ground powered robots must be fully open to inspection and testing before and after mission to satisfy judges that it contains no stored on-board power.
    5. Mounting - As ribbon must remain anchored at both top and bottom platform at all times, climbing robot must mount ribbon by sliding or clamping onto it from side. Ribbon will not be removed from base or top for threading or passing through robot.
    6. Starting - When ready to ascend, robot operator will wait for the Referee to issue the verbal start command.
    7. Remote pause - During the mission, robot operator will listen for Referee to issue a verbal pause command, and will promptly command the robot to perform a 5 second pause.
    8. Automatic stop - When the robot arrives at the Top Platform it will automatically stop and wait.
    9. No damage to ribbon - At no time should the robot, power system or operator perform any damage to the ribbon. Judges shall reserve final word as to what constitutes damage. Damaged ribbon will be replaced at the discretion of the judges.
  4. Scoring
    1. Each robot may attempt three missions. Each mission will be scored separately, and the Robot's final score will be the best of the three scores.
    2. Each mission will be scored as follows:

      Score = T x D x C x A x P

      With the following factors:

      T = 180 - Elapsed mission time in seconds (+seconds spent mounting the robot to the ribbon beyond the first 60.)

      D = Damage factor;
             1 if no damage to ribbon
             0 if damage to ribbon *
      C = Remote Control factor;
             1 if successfully performed 5 second pause on command
             0 if did not successfully perform 5 second pause *

      A = Auto stop factor;
             1 if automatically stopped at top platform
             0 if did not automatically stop at top platform *

      P = Power method factor;
             1 if power supply carried fully on-board robot
             2 if some power received from ground-based source **
           10 if all power received from ground-based source **

      * Note that a zero score on any of the factors results in a total score of zero, and essentially is a disqualification for that mission attempt.
      ** Robots that receive some or all power from ground based sources must be fully open to inspection and testing before and after mission to satisfy judges that it contains no stored on-board power. Robots intended to receive ALL power from ground-based sources must prove that all devices on board are "empty" at the start of the mission.

      Judges shall reserve final word on all safety aspects, and may prohibit use of any system or method which may present a danger, at their sole discretion.
    3. Decisions of the judges are final.

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