SRS Pop Can Challenge

Revised May 23, 2023  

                                                                   (All Red text below reflect this revision)


The Pop Can Challenge is a robotics competition emphasizing autonomous navigation and obstacle avoidance in a simulated indoor living environment. Robots have three opportunities to navigate from a starting point, accomplish various tasks, and then return to an ending point. Scoring is primarily task-based, with completion times used to rank robots with identical task scores. A maximum of 5 minutes is allocated for each trial.


  • 2015-11-29 – Original version.
  • 2017-10-03 – Allowed returning to the start point to finish as well as having a base station at the start point, simulating a charging station.
  • 2018-05-30 – Allow competitors to put their own can of pop in the refrigerator (e.g., to accommodate vision sensors looking for a specific color of can).
  • 2018-07-16 – Allow use of off-robot computing resources (e.g., simulating a home computing system directing a utility robot to various tasks).
  • 2022-07-14 – Added liability and code of conduct sections.
  • 2023-05-23 – Allow robot go over 5 minutes during its official run by accumulating penalty points.
    • Allow robots under 35 pounds.
    • Allow competitor to bring their own mini fridge.
    • Allow use of a can holder inside mini fridge.
    • Update contact and questions link.


Other clubs and non-commercial organizations may use these rules and the name “SRS Pop Can Challenge” provided:

  1. The SRS is notified of any upcoming contests.
  2. The rules are not changed.
  3. The SRS is credited (using the full name SRS Pop Can Challenge is sufficient).

It is the intent of the SRS to keep these rules fresh as robot capabilities progress. Changes will be announced once per year, shortly after the SRS Robothon.

Questions or comments about these rules should be directed to the email:

The latest version of these rules is posted at:


The robot must not be constructed in such a way as to damage the environment or create a hazard to participants, spectators, or other robots. See “Safety” for other restrictions.


  1. The robot must weigh less than 3525 pounds.
  2. The robot must fit within a 2′ long x 2′ wide x 5′ high envelope when starting and ending the challenge.
  3. The robot may use a “base station” at the start location (simulating a charging station), but the base station must fit within the 2’ x 2’ start area, and be a maximum of 12” tall.
  4. The robot’s center of mass must be lower than 2′ high.
  5. The robot cannot use an internal or external combustion engine.
  6. Robots must remain in contact with the ground. Flying or hovering robots are not permitted.
  7. Robots must be autonomous, using either fully on-board computing resources or optionally a combination of on-board and off-robot computing resources (e.g., communicating over a computer network). Manual remote control is not allowed. Off-robot sensors, beacons, etc. are not allowed.
  8. Robots must be configured so they are unlikely to climb the walls or otherwise escape the course.

It shall be the discretion of the judges to decide whether a robot meets these qualifications, and the judges may require the robot’s owner to demonstrate compliance if non-obvious.



The course will be indoors and will roughly approximate a portion of a living space, with a family room area, hallway, and dining area. There will be obstacles within the course consistent with an indoor living space. For at least the first iteration of this course, all of the objects, sizes, and locations will be clearly defined well in advance of the competition. A proposed layout of the course and objects is shown above and in the appendices, as well as a dimensioned drawing of the proposed layout.

The “walls” of the course will be a minimum of 11” tall. The “floor” of the course will be whatever floor is in the contest area. It is anticipated that this course would be placed on the parquet floor in the Seattle Center Armory building.

Robots will be placed at the designated starting point prior to each run (the green square in the above illustration). The default ending point is shown in the above illustration as a red square. Alternatively, the robot can return to the start location, but if so, must at a minimum travel to the “kitchen” area before doing so. It is unlikely that these locations will be marked in the actual arena, but will comprise the 2’ x 2’ spaces in the location shown above.

For this first iteration of the contest, there will be an athletic shoe placed as shown in the above illustration and the appendices, as an obstacle to avoid while running the course. Moving the shoe as part of running the course is permitted. Similarly, there will be a dog dish in the dining area, and moving the dish with the robot is also permitted.

The exact model of mini-fridge to be used and the specific location of the can of pop will be published a minimum of 4 months prior to the competition. If the competitor wants to bring their own mini fridge, they must notify the event organizers and it must not be modified in order to aid the robot in opening or closing the door or acquiring the can. Competitors can supply their own can of pop (non-alcoholic) to simplify use of vision sensors looking for a specific color of can, etc.

There will be a single can of pop placed in a precise and secure pre-defined location on the bottom-most horizontal surface within the mini-fridge, as close to the door as possible while still allowing the door to close completely. A pop-can holder may be used to keep the can in that location.



There will be a minimum 2 hour practice period prior to the start of competition. Contestants may take as many practice runs as they like, but no practice run may exceed 5 minutes, and access to the course is based on the order of contestants lining up at the course to make a practice run.

Only one robot will be allowed on the course at a time. Contestants should make every effort to quickly remove their robot from the course when it either completes the course or is obviously lost/confused.

For the scored official contest runs, judges will have a list of contestants and will invite contestants to the course in the order of the list. If a robot is not ready to run when called, that robot loses that opportunity to run the course.

Each robot is given 5 minutes to complete the course on each of its three attempts. Each attempt is scored individually. If it looks like a robot will go over 5 minutes, the contestant has the option to let the robot continue by accumulating one penalty point for each second the robot goes over 5 minutes. After three attempts, the best (highest) score, minus any penalty points, for each robot will be recorded as that robot’s final score. A minimum of thirty minutes will be provided between attempts to allow for software and hardware modifications.

Robots do not need to travel the same route for each attempt. Contestants may try alternate routes in an effort to improve their score or chances of finishing.


Scoring of the Pop Can Challenge is primarily based on successful completion of various tasks. Any subset of the below tasks can be accomplished by the robot, and each task successfully completed earns the points for that task, even if intervening tasks have not been completed.


  1. 100 points: Travel from the starting location to the mini-fridge, making contact with the mini-fridge with any attached component of the robot.
  2. 100 points: Open the mini-fridge door a minimum of 1”
  3. 500 points: Retrieve the can of pop from inside the mini-fridge, and return it within the course at least far enough that it is fully out of the kitchen area.
  4. 200 points: Close the mini-fridge door.
  5. 1000 points: Place the can of pop on top of the coffee table. Accomplishing this task also awards the contestant the can of pop!
  6. 100 points: Return to and stop the robot within one of the ending locations without the can of pop, or…
  7. 300 points: Return to and stop the robot within one of the ending locations with the can of pop.

“Within one of the ending locations” is defined as all points of locomotion ground contact (e.g., the points of contact of the wheels) being within the 2’ x 2’ region in one of the ending locations (start or finish).

Maximum score available to any robot is 2000 points (tasks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Other scoring examples:

  1. The robot travels to the mini-fridge, tags it, and returns to one of the ending locations, earning 200 points (tasks 1 & 6).
  2. The robot travels to the mini-fridge, opens and closes it, then returns to one of the ending locations, earning 500 points (tasks 1, 2, 4, & 6).
  3. The robot travels to the mini-fridge, opens it, retrieves the can of pop, then returns with the can of pop to the ending location, earning 1000 points (tasks 1, 2, 3, 7).


Robots that achieve the same task score will be placed by the elapsed time to accomplish those tasks. For robots with the same task score, the robot with the lower elapsed time will place higher than robots with longer elapsed times and the same task score.

If no robots complete any of the above tasks, the robot that came closest to the mini-fridge within the allotted attempt time will be declared the winner.

Scoring will be at the sole discretion of the judges.


One or more judges will officiate the contest. They will ensure the spirit of these rules are followed and impose scoring penalties or remove a robot from competition if the robot is operating in an unsafe manner or not complying with the spirit of these rules. The decisions of the judges are final.


Each robot must have an easily accessible power switch that disconnects the battery pack from all other components within the robot. This need not be the start/stop switch for the robot.

Appendix 1 – 2016 Pop Can Challenge course – 3D view & dimensioned drawing

3D view of the course

Dimensioned Drawing of the Arena

Appendix 2 – Intended Rule Evolution

As Pop Can Challenge robots become more capable, it is the intention of the SRS to evolve these rules to present a greater challenge. The following proposals are not currently part of the Pop Can Challenge rules but are provided to give builders an idea of how the contest may change in the future so they can design their robots more appropriately:

  • Additional obstacles along the path from the family room to the dining area.
  • Removing a can of pop from a typical cardboard pop can dispenser in the mini-fridge.
  • Multiple cans of pop in the mini-fridge, requiring the robot to correctly select the type of pop identified in the challenge.
  • Cans of pop on multiple shelves in the mini-fridge.
  • Opening the can of pop prior to placing it on the coffee table.
  • Pouring the can of pop into a glass on the coffee table.

The current plan is to have the competitors who successfully participated in this challenge to vote on any course modifications for the subsequent Pop Can Challenge event. The event organizers will use this vote as strong guidance as they prepare modifications to the challenge for the subsequent event.

The SRS does not intend to increase the maximum weight and size of a robot unless it becomes obvious that robots can no longer be built to run SRS Pop Can Challenge courses without being physically larger or heavier. This is unlikely.

———————- New content as of 7-14-2022

Liability – Each contestant is fully responsible for any damage to person or property caused directly or indirectly by his or her robot.  The SRS, the event organizers, judges and other entrants are not responsible for damage caused by any competing robots.  Each contestant must sign the waiver of liability form prior to the competition.  A minor must have a guardian present to sign their waiver.

Please reference a copy of the waiver here that each contestant will need to sign in-person before competing.

Code of Conduct – All builders, handlers and spectators are expected to comply with our organization’s code of conduct, please reference these SRS rules here.

These SRS rules also apply to all event staff. Please keep the event fun and light-hearted for all, including the organizers and humans.