Lava Palaver

Aim of the challenge

To drive from one end of the course to the other as fast as possible, outrunning the lava flows from a volcanic eruption.

palaver, noun, “unnecessarily elaborate or complex procedure.”

Control method


Time limit

5 minutes.


  • The course is a shallow trough of painted hardboard approximately 7m long with walls approximately 70mm high and set approximately 550mm apart.
  • The course has been sketched out below. The angles of the turns may be slightly different.
  • The course will be approximately the same width throughout.
  • There will be a white line down the middle of the track to aid navigation. The line will be approximately 19mm wide.
  • The course will be laser-timed for accuracy. If you are using laser-guided sensors, we recommend building in an ‘ignore delay’ at the start of the run so the sensor(s) don’t get confused.
  • The competing robot must cross the finish line for the time to be recorded.
  • The robot must be autonomous.  A “start” and a “stop” button are permitted (whether on the robot or on the controller).
  • You will need to manually retrieve your robot from the end of the course and return it to the start between runs.
  • New for 2020: there will be at least one ‘speed hump’ on the course. This will be as smooth as we can make it!


  • Competitors will be ranked according to the total amount of time taken to drive the course three times; the robot with the shortest combined time will take first place.
  • Points will be awarded to the top ranked robots:
    • 1st: 40 points
    • 2nd: 32 points
    • 3rd : 25 points
    • 4th : 18 points
    • 5th : 15 points
    • 6th : 12 points
    • 7th : 10 points
    • 8th : 8 points
    • 9th : 6 points
    • 10th : 4 points
    • 11th : 2 points
    • 12th : 1 point

Additional Points

  • 100 points will be awarded for each completed run.
  • 45 additional points will be awarded for each run where the robot does not touch the sides of the course.
  • 70 additional points will be awarded to the robot with the fastest individual run.


  • Each touch of the walls incurs a 10 second penalty up to a maximum of 30 seconds.
  • Robots scraping along the wall(s) will be penalised to the maximum of 30 seconds.
  • It is permitted to rescue the robot and place it back on the course at the place where things went wrong once per run without penalty, but the clock will not be stopped.
  • An additional rescue is permitted, incurring a 15 second penalty.
  • A third rescue is not permitted; instead the run must be abandoned.
  • Abandoned or non-completed runs will be penalised by 60 seconds.

Ask Questions and Discuss

You can discuss this challenge and ask questions on the discussion forum or via Discord chat.