Robot contest challenges 1st-year engineers
Published: Monday, May 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012 22:06
St. John Arena was taken over by robot droids.
The 18th Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors program (FEH) Robot Competition took place Thursday and challenged first-year Ohio State honors engineering students to use concepts learned from physics and math courses to conceptualize, build and program a 9-by-9 inch robot. Robots had to efficiently complete day-to-day maintenance and service activities normally performed in cities on a mock 12-by-12 foot course designed to simulate a city. The CITY, or Community Infrastructure That’s Youthful, was the theme for this year’s competition.
The competition, judged by OSU alumni from engineering powerhouses such as Honda, Shell, Proctor & Gamble and General Electric, displayed animated screens tracking the robots’ real-time movements for the audience while video projections offered a closer view of the action. The single-elimination tournament gave the pre-programmed, autonomous robots two minutes to collect trash from dumpsters in the outskirts/suburbs of the “city,” recognize it as trash or recycling and dispense of it appropriately. The droid then moved on to downtown to install a traffic light and proceeded to turn a crank to power the city and light up the skyscrapers. Finally, the droid opened the subway gate for citizen access.
To achieve an efficient performance on the course, teams had to prepare early. In fact, a significant portion of the assignment involved major documentation and pre-production, said Kathy Harper, who taught two sections of the FEH robot class.
She said everything the students learned in the FEH class, and from a coordinated program in engineering, physics and mathematics, was geared toward helping them prepare for the final competition.
“We do some labs (the) first couple of weeks and help them figure out how to analyze a motor and analyze what they’re planning on doing. So they take their strategy and put together what they’ve learned about how to analyze a motor and figure out what motor to choose for their robot,” Harper said.
After choosing a motor, Harper said students use computer-assisted drawing tools to design their droids. She said students can analyze their robots before they start to put them together.
When it is time to buy parts to build the robots, Harper said students are given a $160 budget to be used at the “FEH store,” located in Hitchcock Hall.
“We give them the robotic controller, but everything else they have to buy through the store or they can buy parts from outside, but they still have to budget for it,” Harper said.
Some students acknowledged that the process was grueling yet worth their time and effort.
“They told us it was going to be a lot of work, and that we’d have very many sleepless nights,” said Reynold Cornell, a first-year in computer science and engineering.
David Wright, a first-year in computer science and engineering and member of the first-place team, Team Matrix, said team members dedicated seven to nine hours per day testing the droid. In second place was Team DS Squad and in third place was Team Squidward.
The remaining members of Team Matrix, the winning team, were Ryan Brady, a first-year in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Frederic Carrier, a first-year in mechanical engineering, and Leno Piperi, a first-year in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.
Despite hundreds of hours spent on rigorous documentation and testing, initial group tension, performance check requirements, and GPS or battery inconsistencies on the day of the competition, many students agreed that they gained a lot from the experience.
“I think this is a good representation of what it actually is like in the job world. We get to see this to completion,” Cornell said. “I know a lot of companies break up the tasks so you only get to work on one task, but we get to see the whole spectrum of the design process.”
His teammate, Brandon Mills, also a first-year in computer science and engineering, said the competition helps define the engineering program at OSU.
“I think this is what makes the FEH program one of the best in the country,” Mills said.