Robotic hockey teams face-off at Penn Engineering

For students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Design of Mechatronic Systems class, “the finals” are more than an exam; they are a tournament in which the winners hoist a trophy high above their heads in victory. 

Throughout the school year, members of the class, led by Jonathan Fiene, director of laboratory programs, design pint-sized robotic hockey teams that faceoff in an annual competition known as The Robockey Cup. Each team produces three robots that skate on wheels, shoot with pistons, and see the puck, the goals, and each other using a variety of sensors.

One aspect of the contest tests physical design, balancing speed and power. Students cannot give instructions to their robots while they are in the rink, so winning becomes a test of brains as well as brawn. This can lead to some exciting moments for a packed crowd of robockey fans.


At last semester’s tournament, a robot pushed the puck down the boards toward its own goal. Visible tension filled the arena as the crowd waited to see whether it would become aware of its position and avoid crossing the net line, or whether it would get confused and attempt a shot. The crowd went wild when the robot successfully avoided shooting into its own goal.

The championship match featured the fastest goal of the tournament; a slapshot from center ice that caught the opposing team’s goalie off-guard. Those two seconds of action were the result of hours of studying and synthesizing knowledge from three different engineering fields.

“Robockey covers mechanical design, electronics, and programming, which makes it a perfect mechatronics project,” says master’s student Neel Shah, a member of the winning team. “It made us aware of the problems that come up only when implementing things practically [that] are not there in theoretical learning, as well as the different solutions for tackling them.”