First-Year Students Mix Learning & Fun in Fall Robotics Challenge

Friday, December 01, 2023
Robotics challenge at Rose-Hulman.

This year’s Engineering Practice robotics challenge had teams of first-year electrical and computer engineering students working together to design robots that completed a variety of assigned tasks under remote- and autonomous-control.

Learning and laughter.

First-year electrical and computer engineering students had fun while learning the fundamental engineering principles that will bring them success throughout their collegiate and professional careers.

This fall’s Engineering Practice course had students working together in teams to design, program, and then compete in a special robotics challenge that had everyone being a winner, according to instructors/associate professors Deborah Walter, PhD, and Chris Miller, PhD.

The challenge: Remote-controlled Lego Mindstorm robots had three minutes to pick up three flowerpots, one at a time, that were scattered throughout a maze playing field. Then, the pots had to be delivered to a loading zone after successfully navigating through a dark cave. Along the way, the robots could use sensors to turn on a series of candles to help light up the path along the way. Extra credit was awarded to teams that could accomplish any portion of the task under autonomous control.

“We were given the opportunity to do something really cool,” said Logan Phillips, a member of the top-scoring Team Gamma with classmates Cruz Martinez and Andrew Grasman. “We had a good gameplan, hoping to turn on as many candles as possible and have our robot’s headlight lead the way through the cave (another extra-credit producer). We were delightfully surprised with our performance in each round.”

Martinez, who had just one hour of practice operating the robot’s remote-control device, added, “It’s been a tough 3½ weeks getting here, but it’s been a fun way to learn.”

Grasman agreed. He stated, “This is a good place to start to make sure you’re building fail-safe procedures into your projects.”

Throughout the project development process, students learned elements of teamwork, Arduino programming, circuitry, documenting their work, meeting design goals and specifications, and dealing with failure and conflict.

Walter remarked, “This is a good learning environment. It allows the students to get to know each other, we (professors) to get to know them and their personalities, and allows them all to have success in the first quarter on campus. They get a good grasp of what’s ahead in other aspects of the department’s curriculum.”

Robot Revolution was a team that performed well in each round of the competition, eventually placing second in the final clash. The robot was assembled by Will Marek, Anjeli Prakash, and Maria Godoy Rodriguez.

“Somehow, we strategized better in each round and kept advancing,” said Marek, who put the team’s robot through its paces. “Really, there was nothing to lose.”

Yes, as Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Head Mario Simoni, PhD, reminded the students during a break between rounds, “You could be doing calculus right now, but you’re here. Isn’t this much more fun?” 

Three classes of the Engineering Practice course were taught during the fall academic quarter and Walter is teaching another section this winter quarter.