Robot Rodeo Lassos Engineering Principles

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Students and faculty at the robot rodeo

Fun Times: Robots assembled by two student teams earned points in the Robot Rodeo by collecting as many of the 30 multi-colored toy chickens as possible into four holding pens within three minutes. The competition was the culmination of the fall engineering practice course in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Click on the image above to view a slideshow.

A Robot Rodeo turned first-year electrical and computer engineering students into chicken rustlers to lasso the principles of system engineering design and teamwork that they had learned in their engineering practice course this fall.

Student teams designed and assembled autonomous- and remote-controlled robots that had three minutes to gather as many of 30 miniature toy chickens and wrangle them into four holding pens of various sizes, collecting points based on the chicken's color (green, blue, red and yellow) and the width of the hole opening for the holding pen (3.75 or 5 inches).

And, the top prizes were awarded for collecting the four yellow chickens that were strategically placed in the center of the playing board, two of which moved to make catching them more challenging.

"This challenge was part-strategy, part-survival tactics and a whole lot of good fortune," says Simeon Dickman, a first-year electrical engineering student from Herscher, Ill., who worked the remote control device for the championship-winning robot. Computer engineering student Michael Wilkins, of Geneva, Ill., provided the commands that directed the team's robot to pick up and deliver chickens throughout six matches. In each match, robots from two opposing teams squared off on the playing board.

"Our big advantage was that we designed a robot that could collect three chickens at any one time," Wilkins says. "That gave us more options to accumulate points with less effort, and we could take our time and set the best strategy to collect the most chickens left on the board."

The quality of play and excitement increased with each succeeding round of competition, and the two semifinal round matches featured robots removing nearly all of the chickens within the three-minute match. A similar showdown was well underway in the championship-round match before one of the robots became disabled after getting stuck on the playing field.

However, all of the teams were winners, according to assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Daniel Chang, because the nearly 90 first-year students learned skills that will be important to their success at Rose-Hulman and, eventually, as professional engineers.

"Seeing the students having so much fun while learning new concepts is our goal; learning is always better when it is fun and exciting," Chang says. "We change the challenge each year to keep things fresh and intriguing - for the students and professors." Other engineering practice course professors this fall were Carlotta Berry and Chris Miller.

Gabriel Paree-Huff, an electrical engineering student from Fishers, Ind., worked with two classmates to finish their robot just two days before the Robot Rodeo. And a preliminary practice run captured one chicken before the team's robot became disabled. They came back and advanced to the fourth round of the competition.

"We had a few bugs that had to be worked out; however, once we got our robot working well and could set a course of strategy, we did well," concedes Kendall Kling, a computer engineering student from Holland, Mich. "It was a lot of work but a whole bunch of fun."