Let The Robotics Games Begin!

The S&T Robotics Competition team has been moving well through the qualifying events so far. Yesterday the ‘bot builders did a great job on the design event, an oral briefing on all aspects of the machine’s design, and today they plan to qualify Aluminator’s mechanical systems on the practice course. The important issue was not just that they did a great briefing job, but it proves they had completed the robot early enough in the design year to test its systems, work out most of the bugs, and above all, repeatedly rehearse their presentation until they knew it forward and backward. Chris Vincent tells us the judges were quite impressed by the machine’s well-organized system layout and circuitry as well as a short video clip that proved the design’s power and robustness.
While the Miners were disappointed that they didn’t make the design finals* after a very polished delivery (only 5 or 6 out of 50+ teams made it to finals) they think they have a good shot at a top-10 finish in that category, which (with a tip o’ the hat to St. Pat) would be one of their best ever ranking.
Last year’s motor controller problems seem to have been solved. Some months ago the ‘bot builders realized Aluminator’s motor controllers were undersized for the drive robot code.jpgmotors’ amperage requirements so they upgraded the controllers. Now the beefed-up system is quite capable of throwing its own weight around, and will do fine regardless of the weather.
There are a lot of different design ideas from which to draw inspiration at these events. Last year the Miners were enthralled by a tank-tread design that really seemed like a cool idea. While some more experienced (meaning old) observers thought it was a Rube-Goldberg approach that added risk and didn’t significantly improve on Aluminator’s 2008 mechanical systems, the Robo-Miners were all fired up and ready to re-invent the wheel. Ignoring the fact that the crew struggled with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) design last year (think robotic Alzheimers; all dressed up and no idea where it was going) the ME side of the team was determined to have a robotic tank.
Red Bull.jpgFortunately, cooler heads prevailed during the design year so the Miners opted to retain Aluminator’s basic platform and concentrate on more critical autonomous guidance systems. That has already paid off because the Miners mechanics are largely sitting on their hands so far today. That is NOT to say they weren’t busy overnight or that problems won’t yet surface, but all seems quiet right now. Better to be rehearsing your design presentation than yelling about a missing wrench or broken motor controller, eh?
Generally these machines use electricity for their motive power. Nearly every vehicle uses batteries for stored power but some teams use gas generators towed behind the robot to charge the power packs. One team has a kid’s-sized ATV controlled (at least we hope so) by computer and rumor has it that a California team even has a hydrogen fuel cell. The “Ecole de Technologie Superieure team out of Montreal (right) clearly has everyone beat with a great fuel sponsorship deal.
FIRST Detroit 09.jpg
Meanwhile a FIRST Robotics exhibition in the background (left) is lending a circus atmosphere to the goings-on. The college teams have been busy catching up on rest, repairing drive systems, and writing code (ESPECIALLY writing code) while the FIRST teams have been cheering wildly through a series of double-elimination matches If you’ve never been to a FIRST event, think amazingly complex technical wizardry mixed with a rock concert atmosphere, and a touch of professional wrestling (you know, the stupid fake stuff) thrown in for a little spice.
The students at the annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle event are a courteous, trusting and TRUSTWORTHY** bunch. DSC_0086_2.jpgThe “pits” consist of a nearly 200′ ft long tent crammed with tables and chairs, and power tools, cameras and above all, laptop computers are everywhere. Need to take your robot out to practice? No problem! Need to take a nap? Go for it! You could leave your equipment unattended all day long and no one would dream of disturbing your gear. If you are trying to take a photo of the field operations people will either stop while you shoot or walk around BEHIND you rather than risk bothering you. That’s really special!
Lastly, we can always count of S&T alums to support their educational descendents. Last night a loyal group of MSM/UMR/S&T alums treated the team to dinner and offered the kind of moral support that keeps these teams motivated. The hosts learned about the robot, the team’s design strategy, and how they were enjoying the Michigan weather. In response to the students’ feedback S&T alum Don Statler (CE ’56 ) showed up early this morning with a climatic C.A.R.E package that he and his wife Dee put together, a shopping bag full of sweatshirts to help keep the Miners warm during their all-night shifts working on Aluminator, ’cause it was kind of chilly at 5:00 a.m. in a big tent.
*We’re normally loathe to point fingers (to do so we’d have to identify the team) but we understand one top design finalist student (ahem!) design team had their professor make their design presentation. What kind of learning opportunity do you get if you can’t put your ideas forward as your best work? Hmmm, or IS it your best work……….?
We imagine that any S&T design team advisor who wanted to be the spokesman would politely be told “No, thank you” by the students. If that didn’t work it’s even money that the team would become more insistent. If that STILL didn’t work there’s always old reliable duct tape………
**We’d say all the participants were all good Boy Scouts (trustworthy, loyal, helpful, etc,) but there are quite a few female team members on the teams; one young lady is even wearing blazing pink stiletto heels. Did we mention the tent has a dirt floor?