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Engineering Students Compete in Annual Robot Design Competition

Posted by Engineering Communications on July 26, 2019 in News
Siyan Zhang, Dimitri Korchak, and Sierra Sparks (l-to-r) with Robbie, their entry into the 29th Annual Dalhousie Engineering Robot Design Competition
Siyan Zhang, Dimitri Korchak, and Sierra Sparks (l-to-r) with Robbie, their entry into the 29th Annual Dalhousie Engineering Robot Design Competition

“I’m Robbie from Group 24. I’m excited to compete. Good luck, everyone!”

This was the message Robbie the Robot shared with his fellow competitors moments before diving into an obstacle course littered with rocks, mountains and marine wildlife.

Robbie, a 10”x7” robot, was designed and created by 3rd year engineering students, Sierra Sparks, Dimitri Korchak and Siyan Zhang. His purpose: to compete in this year’s 29th annual Engineering Robot Design Competition.

The annual competition is a full-day event that features automated robots, designed by undergraduate electrical and computer engineering students, competing in an obstacle course race. The competition gives students the opportunity to test their engineering skills, creativity, stamina, and team work.

The objective of the event is to design a robot that can successfully navigate an obstacle course. The robots are autonomous, meaning no remote controls are used in the competition.

Titled “The Guardians of the Sea,” this year’s obstacle course was designed to model a subsea energy facility. While the course is imaginary, it does present a real world challenge.

Moments after plunging into the course, Robbie crashes into a set of rocks. He now prepares himself for round two of the competition.

The rocks weren’t the only barriers posing a threat to the 24 other teams competing in the competition. Makeshift mountains and a stuffed toy shark representing wildlife also made it challenging for the robots to navigate the course. The ultimate goal: to find a buried pipe system underneath the ocean floor using sensors and metal detectors.

“There was a metal “pipe” that was painted over, that we had to use our metal detectors that we developed in various lab sessions to follow throughout the course,” says Sparks. “Around the border of the course, there were metallic strips that were also reflective, and so the metal detectors in conjunction with our reflective sensors both had to be active for us to know that we were at the border.”

“Before the event, we spent three straight days in the lab getting Robbie ready for the competition,” she adds. “We went from him not being able to drive on his own to finally being able to navigate the entire course.”

Working from a kit that each team was given at the start of their course, Sparks and her team added additional features to their robot.

“We had a lot of diverse experiences from all of our team members, which allowed us to really explore a variety of solutions to solving this design problem,” she says. “Specifically, we used a lot of 3D components to assemble all of our subsystems.”

“It was kind of funny actually, the two of us (Dimitri and I) who are in electrical engineering focused on the software, and the computer engineering student in our group (Siyan) did most of the hardware,” she adds. “Because of this, we had a lot of different ideas to implement. We developed the software to work directly with our custom-made hardware pieces, which allowed us to have a lot more flexibility in our sensor measurements and our overall design.”

As Sparks and her team brace themselves for the remainder of the competition, they watch as Robbie avoids the toy shark and weaves his way passed the mountains towards the finish line completing the entire course.

“After round one, Robbie was running on batteries that were more worn down, instead of using brand new ones. We noticed that the battery life significantly affects the performance of the robot,” she says. “When we first replaced the batteries before our very first attempt, the robot drove much faster than expected, and this is probably one of the reasons it did not escape the landmark area in our first attempt. After wearing down the batteries a bit, it was able to complete the entire course.”