Engineering students showcase everyday robots and then some

April 17, 2014

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By Andrew Jose, The Daily Utah Chronicle:

When it comes to robot competitions, one centimeter can mean the difference between the sweet bliss of victory and the despair of defeat.

Engineering students at the U showed off their creations and tested their robot skills Tuesday at the College of Engineering’s annual Design Day.

The event, which was held in the Union Ballroom, featured several elements, including a freshman design competition, a junior mechatronics competition and a senior design showcase.

During the freshman design competition, student teams tested the accuracy of pre-programmed robots against each other. Each robot was equipped with a cannon-like firing mechanism designed to fire a series of ping-pong balls into six targets located randomly on an elevated surface. Student teams were judged based on how accurately their robot completed the task.

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The challenge for students in this competition was not only to execute skilled maneuvers of their machines, but more importantly to demonstrate that they had programmed their robot efficiently prior to the contest. Even a slight error in programming could mean a great change in the machine’s accuracy.

Austin Anderson, a freshman in mechanical engineering who participated in the competition, said he and his team spent many hours preparing, testing and practicing their craft until the day of the contest.

Anderson said he felt confident in the work he and his team had put in and felt good about their chances in the competition.

“[Our chances] look pretty good,” Anderson said. “Not a lot of people are doing too well, so it’s looking good for us.”

In the junior mechatronics competition, students worked in teams combining three robots to attempt a set of specialized tasks, all aimed at retrieving a secured microcontroller. The robots were designed to unlock and enter a secured facility and retrieve the controller without setting off the sensor alarms. Teams were judged on their time and ability to effectively accomplish each task.

While not watching the competitions, students were free to visit project stations, where they could view project demonstrations and gain information about their purpose and function. Each of the stations featured projects designed and built by senior students throughout the year.

Peter Tran, a sophomore in mechanical engineering who attended the event last year, said he was impressed with some of the designs the seniors presented in this showcase. This year’s graduating class was the largest senior class to date, showcasing the distinctive works of 25 design teams. The designs featured everything from home firefighting robots to skateboard braking systems.

“I like some of the senior projects this year a bit more,” Tran said. “It’s good to see a lot of the new ideas that have emerged.”

Tran said he hopes the event will open people’s minds to engineering as something that can be utilized in many areas of life.

“It seems like a lot of these projects are for the daily use of the general public,” Tran said. “There’s more to mechanical engineering than just building robots or cars.”

a.jose@chronicle.utah.edu