For reference only: These rules have been superseded by what is now on the Rules page

Here's a first set of rules for the vacuuming contest. The rules committee (Erann Gat, Sebastian Thrun, and myself, Pete Bonasso) had a number of discussions that included how to keep from having loop holes that would admit to easy solutions, how to insure that some intelligence was necessary, and how to assign penalties for teams who might use minimal sensing. What we've come up with is a first pass suitable for interested teams to send in their reactions. Let us know what you think.

Please send comments/questions to me ( with copies to Erann gat@robotics.Jpl.Nasa.Gov, and Sebastian We'll pow wow among ourselves and get back to you with rule changes or clarifications. The final set of rules is due in March.

Also, if you're with a team that is planning to participate, let us know the affiliation so we can start getting a count.



The point of this contest is to explore the usefulness of intelligence in a task that appears to only require essentially unskilled labor -- simple household vacuuming. We believe that unlike vacuuming in the service industry (factories, warehouses, etc.) home vacuuming will require sensate intelligence to deal with the humans in an everyday environment. For the AAAI contest, vacuuming robots ought to be short on vacuum mechanisms and long on intelligence. That is to say, simple suction, storage, and disposal devices are sufficient for these tasks, but the robots will probably have to make reasoned trade-offs among subtasks in real time to achieve a high score.

As always, these draft rules may be adjusted based on the feedback from potential participants.


1) To show the value of intelligent robotics in a rudimentary service task .

2) To let competitors measure the usefulness of their approach to robot intelligence.

3) To have fun.


We have a three room house (kitchen, family room, den) with a short hallway connecting the rooms. A smart vacuuming robot sits at a charging/disposal station in the hallway where it can see humans going in and out of the rooms (in the contest, charging a waning battery should not be required, but depositing trash will). Periodically, because of the activities of the human family living there, messes appear in the rooms, and sometimes in the hallway. The robot's task is to keep the floors vacuumed with minimum interruption of the activities of the human family living there. As such it is to vacuum on demand, when it knows a room might possibly be messy and on a periodic basis.


The rooms will be setup using materials similar to last year's competition. (The figure below is a sample layout; the actual layout will be determined shortly before the competition and maps will be released to all competitors upon their arrival). The door openings to the rooms may be opened or "closed" (blocked). Each room will have a set of furniture: desks, tables, and/or chairs of the kind used last year. Robots are not expected to vacuum under furniture.

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  |      L        |    D      |
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Periodically humans will come and go in the rooms. As they do, they may or may not leave "messes". The "messes" will consist of piles of paper confetti. Sometimes a teenage human may leave a mess in the hallway. A mess will be a circular pile of white confetti no smaller than 18 inches in diameter. There may be more than one mess in a room.

The vacuuming robots will be restricted to carry no more than two messes worth of trash before they must "deposit" the trash at the deposit site. Simply releasing the confetti at the deposit coordinates is sufficient to constitute a deposit.

Allowable Environmental Engineering:

(Judges will determine the amount of penalty, depending on how much marking is done)

Virtual Manipulation:

The Tasks:

Phase 1. "Once A Week" Vacuuming.

(First day trials). All the rooms are to be cleaned once a week. In this phase, the robots will start at the disposal station, clean the each room by vacuuming the entire area of the room, and return to the disposal point. If messes are present (there may be from zero to two messes in each room), the robot must return to deposit the trash after every two messes. No humans will be present for this phase. There will be no messes in the hallway for this phase.


1) Fastest time (all three rooms must have been entered (doorway
cleared) at least once to qualify for fastest time):

Max. score -- 20.

2) Clean rooms:

Max. score (three rooms and 2 messes/room):

13 x 10 = 30
+6 x 10 = 60
+3 x 10 = 30

3) Penalties: Navigation -- 5 pt penalty for each physical item bumped or hit.

4) Bonuses:

Max. score possible for Phase 1: 160 pts

Phase 2: "Tidy Up."

(Second Day Trials). The robot starts at the disposal station. Humans will periodically enter and leave the rooms (possibly leaving messes). It's the robot's job is to keep the rooms clean of messes. Robots must not enter a room when a human is present (during this phase, humans will not enter a room while a robot is cleaning). During a given 15 minute run, humans will be present in each room for 1 minute out of every 5, except for the family room which will be occupied 3 minutes out of every 5. Robots may clean messes in the hallway while humans are present there.

The house is laid out such that the family room is immediately visible to visitors from the front entrance. Thus, to the family, a clean family room is twice as important any other room being clean.


1) Messes cleaned in 15 minutes (i.e., a mess is cleaned when at least 80 per cent of the mess has been vacuumed):

Max. score:
(Max. of 2 messes per room/hallway)

 6 x 25 = 125
+2 x 50 = 100

2) Penalties:

Phase 3: "Clean my room".

(Third Day Trials). The robot starts at the disposal station. A human will come into the hallway and indicate to the robot that a room needs to be cleaned. The robot will then move to the room, clean any messes there and return to base to deposit the trash. While the robot is cleaning the room, one or more humans will enter. The robot must not clean while a human is in the room, but must move to the nearest wall and wait until the human leaves.


1) Detecting and interpreting human indication of messy room.
Max. score -- 25.

2) Clean rooms:

Max. score

  3 messes x 10 = 30
2 deposits x 10 = 20

3) Ability to stop vacuuming and retreat when human is present in the room - 25 pts.

4) Innovative human-robot communication -- 50 pts. We will reward natural communication that does not involve physically touching the robot or keyboard or mouse. E.g., gesturing, or acquiring and tracking.

Max. score possible for Phase 3: 150.

5) Penalties:

Maximum possible contest score = 535 pts.