Engineering students (and their robots) take competition to heart
Yearly robot competition excites, surprises
Erin Stewart - August 9, 2012
Turns out, it’s not only love that can break your heart: robots can, and did, at the 22nd Annual Electrical & Computer Engineering Design Competition.
Third-year engineering students stood on the sidelines as their automated robot creations crashed, careened and, in some cases, completed the obstacle course laid out before them.
Tasked with designing a robot that would test their engineering skills, creativity, stamina, multi-tasking abilities and endurance when sleep-deprived, 21 teams of engineering students met under the roof of the Sexton Memorial Gymnasium on August 2 to out strategize, out design and out execute their fellow teammates.
“The main objective of the course is to learn how to design in general,” explained Sara Stout-Grandy, who teaches the Design Methods II course. “The students learn how to take a big project and divide it into small chunks to break down and design and build on their own, then integrate them all together in the end.”
Surviving the course
This year’s competition had robots navigating a Survivor-themed obstacle course, complete with requisite fire lighting and flag raising. To make things even more interesting, for the first time in the competition’s history, robots had to return to the course starting position, with mixed results.
“We were pretty worried last night that we weren’t going to get anywhere,” said Tyler MacPherson, standing alongside teammate Matthew Dobson. Their robot, “Barry Badrinath,” had to bow out of the competition at the onset of round five. “Basically, we blew up some things that are very important and now it’s not going to run anymore.”
Following a quiet first and second round that saw few robots stay on course and no fires lit, it was round three that had spectators and competitors on their feet.
Crowd-favourite Alex Parker and his robot, “Spicy Burrito,” were the first team to successfully activate the fire and raise their flag at home base. He—or rather, his robot—would go on to light three more fires before the competition’s end, more than any other robot in the competition.
“I was really excited about the group that did the whole course correctly, that means we did something right” said Dr. Stout-Grandy. “The groups that are struggling… they’re learning and they’re updating what little they can. Each round should improve as they learn what happened in the one before.”
But ultimately, Spicy Burrito would not be numero uno.
After nine rounds, countless ties and some unplanned but impressive dance moves from the ‘bots, the final three standing would be Parker’s Spicy Burrito, Luis Silva and Stanley Ifeanyi’s “Mach 5” and Luc Lessard’s “Monsieur Robo.”
A quick elimination of Mach 5 saw Monsieur Robo and Spicy Burrito go head-to-head in the 10th and final round – with a surprise win from Mr. Lessard’s Monsieur Robo.
“I am extremely happy right now, it’s great,” said Mr. Lessard, moments after the final race. “To get a lucky win there is surprising.“
But similar to his classmates, he’s modest. The Design Methods class, which begins in May, is a demanding one. Mr. Lessard himself worked until the wee hours before Monday’s readiness assessment, grabbing an hour of sleep in the Dalhousie parking lot before heading back to class.
When asked about the strategy behind Monsieur Robo’s design, he explained, “I kept it simple as possible and I used objects to help me as opposed to ruin me. Anytime I found an object I tried to straighten myself on the object and then go around it as opposed to just trying to go around it. I think that helped me on the playing field.”
As for Spicy Burrito? “I’m glad it’s over,” said Mr. Parker. “I’m going straight to bed.”
See more photos from the competition on Dalhousie's Facebook Page.