Minot State University advanced robotics students won first place in an autonomous outdoor ground robot challenge held at Penn State-Abington in Abington, Pa., on April 16.
They won $500 and trophies that are proudly on display in MSU's Model Hall, along with video showing how Einstein the Robot used its mechanical brains to win the competition.
Students Jared Estenson, Chris Grey, Jesse Clark, Ramsey Leonard, Luis Vegerand, Darren Seifert, Colin Marshall, Scott Jones and Dylan Hildenbrand spent half the semester working on the two robots they took to the competition.
Andrea Johnson/MDN - - Jared Estenson, left, and Chris Grey show off their robots, one of which took first place in the Mini Grand Challenge 2011 at Penn State-Abington. In the foreground is Einstein, the winning robot, while the Navigator is seen in the background.
Both were mounted on wheelchair frames and controlled by laptop computers. They were equipped with Web cams, sonar, and GPS systems to help them navigate a path across the college campus filled with obstacles, including a lake to navigate around, green grass, wood chips, rocks, cones, a bridge to cross and people jumping out in front of it. The robots also needed to transport one gallon of water to display payload capabilities. Each robot had to be able to fit into a 6-foot cube and had to be able to be carried by two men. Snow on the ground prevented them from practicing outside, but they used the hallways in Model Hall as a practice course beforehand.
Once they were turned on, the robots had to be able to navigate the course without any further instruction from their designers. Once the robot sensed an orange cone in its path or another obstacle, it had to be able to spin and go in the other direction. The objective of the competition was to promote advances in engineering design, computer technologies, artificial intelligence, and robotics education. The contest was open to anyone and allowed entrants to use low-cost materials.
The contest also encouraged spectator interaction. Points were awarded for robots that entertained the audience by telling jokes, playing songs or making voice announcements during the navigation.
But Estenson, Grey and Clark said some of the contestants paid too much attention to the entertainment. One of the robots threw out candy and did other interesting things but fell over after two minutes.
Einstein may not have been as entertaining as the other robots, but it got the job done. The other robot, Navigator, had technical difficulties and was eliminated from the contest.
The materials for the robots and travel costs for the club were funded in part by a grant from the university. The team was advised by instructors Scott Kast and Larry Atwood. The advanced robotics class represents a semester of student work that includes building robots and writing computer code to interpret images and ground surface, detect objects, avoid obstacles, travel the intended path and stop at the end. Atwood and Kast have taught the class for five years.