Robots relay-racing through an obstacle course? Count us in

Caltech students create robots made for conquering a challenging series of tasks (and learn a lot about teamwork along the way).

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These might not be the robots of the future, but these students are the future of robots.

It's an annual tradition at Caltech: mechanical engineering students tasked with building robots for a friendly competition between peers. Previous challenges included amphibious robots able to swim in the campus fountain, and robots with extendable arms for reaching objects. This year, the competition was a custom obstacle course; a "Robstacle Course," to be exact.

Five teams were tasked with creating three robots that could complete one of the course's three legs.

The first robot needed autonomous steering capabilities to navigate through a pylon field, and a way to hand off a "baton" (in this case, a baseball) to the second robot. The second robot, controlled by a student, needed to scale a seesaw, survive the tipping point and then climb a second, more stationary ramp to get to the final robot. The third robot (also controlled manually) would take the baseball from the second robot, unlock a gate by removing magnetic bolts, and then deposit the ball in the goal to win.

If that sounds hard, that's because it is -- in fact, only one team was able to complete the course more than once during the competition. It's designed that way, though: challenging these students prepares them for the rigors of working in engineering of all kinds once they graduate. Problem-solving, team-building, keeping calm under pressure or on deadline, and creative solutions all come into play as each team works toward the final challenge.

In the end, only one team took home the trophy -- Team Vista ("V15TA") was the same team that completed the course multiple times -- but every single competitor embraced the challenge and everyone looked like they had a great time showing off their creativity and ingenuity.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see next year's robo-challengers.