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First-Year Students’ Robots Corral Zombies in Fall ‘Zamboree’

Friday, November 10, 2017

Rose-Hulman is safe from zombies and other creepy characters, thanks to robots created by first-year electrical and computer engineering students as they learned the basic principles of engineering design, computer programming and project management.

Okay, so zombies weren’t actually roaming through campus. (Although who could blame them, with all the brains we’ve got around here?) Instead, a fun-filled Zany Zombie Zamboree had student teams using autonomous- and remote-controlled robots to hunt for zombie-looking figurines that were strategically scattered throughout a large game board.

The contest, inspired by the popular Plants vs. Zombies video game, had robots attempting to collect the zombies while avoiding plants, and placing them in different sized holding bins.  Zombies were worth positive points; plants were worth negative points; the smaller holding bins were worth more points. Two teams per table competed to collect the most points within each three-minute round of the tournament.

The friendly competition between student teams was not tied to grades, according to Carlotta Berry, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, but allowed students to apply lessons learned during fall quarter engineering practice course.

Starting with 40 teams, the top-scoring groups survived four rounds of competition until only two teams remained for the championship match.

 “This was definitely a ‘thrill of victory’ moment,” said Mason McKeen, a first-year electrical engineering student who controlled the winning team’s robot. “Our strategy was to collect as many zombies as efficiently as we could in each round. Fortunately, we were successful each round and kept going until we were the last team standing.”

Berry noted that this was one of the largest classes of first-year electrical and computer engineering students to participate in the fall quarter robotics challenge. A Piranha Plant Pandemonium contest is planned students taking the engineering practice course during the winter quarter, and a Monster Mash-themed project is already on the drawing board to test next year’s incoming students.