Graduate students win third place in international CiberMouse competition

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By Laurel Bollinger, ECE ILLINOIS
March 9, 2009

  • Graduate students John Sartori and Ahsan Arefin entered into the RTSS CiberMouse competition.
  • They designed software to move robots in a maze by communicating through a wireless protocol.
  • They competed via Skype and placed third our of 17 international groups.

John Sartori
John Sartori

ECE graduate student John Sartori and Computer Science graduate student Ahsan Arefin were simply trying to complete a requirement for class when they decided to enter in this year’s Real Time System’s Symposium (RTSS) CiberMouse competition. ECE Assistant Professor Sayan Mitra led them to the RTSS Web site and encouraged them to participate.

The contest requires teams to design software to maneuver multiple robots around a maze and to have all the robots enter into a target area by communicating through a wireless protocol, Arefin explained. “There are a lot of obstacles and one target, but you don’t know where it is,” he said. “There are walls of differing heights and you are unsure of what is on the other side of the wall, and the whole point of the competition is to have your robots use a wireless network to communicate with the other robots in the environment to find the target within a bounded time.” There could be at most 5 robots positioned initially anywhere in the maze.

Ahsan Arefin
Ahsan Arefin

The students based their software for the competition on theory they had learned in class. “The class was on hybrid systems modeling and verification. We learned about automata modeling and verification of hybrid systems and different topics along those lines,” said Sartori. “We used the theory that we had learned in class to supplement our design and verification of our distributed control system for the robots.”

This year’s competition took place in Barcelona, Spain, November 30 through December 3. Sartori and Arefin competed remotely via Skype, an international video chatting program.

Despite not being able to actually see their robots at work, they were anxious to put all their hard work to test.

“We’d been staying up late the night before, trying to get things working, and it didn’t seem to be working as well as it had before,” said Sartori. “We weren’t expecting to do very well in the competition.”

However, after a few last-minute tweaks, and while participating remotely, the team was being fed updates on their status.

“All of a sudden we were getting all these updates that said we were going to the finals, which was great to hear after all the work we had put into it,” said Sartori.

In the end, Arefin and Sartori came in third out of 17 groups from all over the world. “It was such a great feeling to get third place,” said Arefin. “We were the only group from the several other teams from the United States to place.”

The annual RTSS provides a forum for research in a variety of areas involved in real-time system design, analysis, and implementation. For more information on the RTSS and future competitions, visit

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at or (217) 244-6376.

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