In ZR’s first public season, the challenge revolved around “mining He3.” The major complication was that both opponents could increase their scores if they cooperated, but teams were rewarded unevenly, so one needed to agree to lose. Exhaustive analysis led y0b0tics! to discovere a “best” solution, which exceeded what MIT thought possible. The team published their plan forming the Y0b0tics Mining Guild. Teams following the YMG protocols rose to the top of the leader board and those that didn’t dropped. This caused much turmoil among players and ZR Staff alike and there were boycotts, underground alliances, and a change in the direction of the tournament. Over time YMG was adopted by virtually every team, y0b0tics’ code made its first trip to the ISS, and the team was presented with a “special award” for driving the competition the entire season.
The Autonomous Space Capture Challenge grew out of a DARPA project and was open to professionals, universities as well as high school students. Four teams won a spot on the ISS. The challenge was to chase down and capture another satellite, literally flying circles around it. Additionally, you would get different random targets each time you submitted your code to the simulators, earning different scores. In the second week y0b0tics! took the prize using both aggressive code and an analysis of what score should be good enough. The team watched nervously as other teams would draw a favorable set of targets and come close to overtaking them, but their scores held and y0b0tics! made a second trip to the ISS. The ISS testing yielded surprises including a SPHERES satellite bouncing off a wall and a “thruster incursion” problem no one anticipated.
The RetroSpheres challenge required moving through three distinct zones, solving complex mathematical navigational challenges along the way. As the competition progressed into the alliance phase in which teams join up and work together, rule changes made the math problems so difficult it was discovered that the SPHERES satellites didn’t have the processing power to run many teams’ code. The “3d trilateration” problem also required teams to fly a awkward, fuel and time inefficient flight plans. Y0b0tics! on the other hand discovered a unique approach to solving these mathematical problems allowing for a direct flight plan and a direct mathematical solution, which gave the team an edge. Along with their primary alliance partner The Mira Loma Matadors, the team visited the ISS for a third time and won the National Championship.
Deflecting an incoming comet after navigating a dense asteroid field and rendezvousing with a supply pack was the challenge in CosmoSpheres. The team developed code to dodge asteroids the way students walk down crowded hallways – balancing immediate and long term goals. This worked well, but an alternate strategy emerged. That supply pack rendezvous was dangerously close to the game boundaries and massive fuel penalties, so using a silly program that would chase an opponent saying “Hug Me!” became a winning approach. The “dodge” code was merged with Hug Me and the new program performed very well. As the competition progressed teams worked hard on “anti-Hug Me” techniques and y0b0tics’ ranking dropped. The team made a conscious decision to stick with Hug Me on the ISS because it was more robust than the techniques used against it. Despite one team promising, “Have we got a surprise for you!” Y0b0tics! “spread the love” and won a second National Championship on the ISS.
CoronaSpheres: surveying a rotating asteroid while avoiding solar flares. Teams predicted the positions of Points of Interest and flew to them snapping a photos. Oddly the team did better if they were sloppy with their photos, than when they were precise. This evolved into a series of bug reports all rebuffed, by the ZR Staff. In the alliance phase y0b0tics! teamed up with Code::Space from Romania. The teams refined their code, even modifying the basic navigation control parameters of the satellite. With two weeks left, and bugs persisting, the ZR Staff decided to Open Source the game code and major bugs were found immediately. This led to hurried rework for all concerned, but that was not the cause of y0b0tics’ catastrophic failure on board the ISS. The failure was eventually traced to the change in navigation parameters – but why they worked in the simulator and not on the ISS is still unknown. Everyone learned – we’ll leave those parameters alone on the ISS and ZR has adopted Open Source.
SpySpheres requires turning lurking in the shadows into a scientific art form. Competitors needed to balance hiding in the dark and recharging in the light, to turn a symmetric game area to their own advantage. This game was all about energy and timing. After a couple of years of graduating team members, the team of mostly freshmen seriously challenged. The team performed well and again y0b0tics! teamed up with Code::Space. The alliance was positioned well going into the final night of competition prior to the ISS when overnight the leader largely inverted. With one chance left, the alliance earned a spot on the ISS as one of the top two Virtual Finalists. Their match was the last of the day and it began shortly before a Loss of Signal (LOS). In an all to common occurrence a system failure on the ISS caused a satellite to fail during the match, and with the LOS coming, ground simulations were used to determine the winner, leaving y0b0tics! in 2nd place in the Virtual Finals.