A group of students from West Virginia University put their classroom experience to the test recently at a robotics event held at Oklahoma State University.
Under the mentorship of Powsiri Klinkhachorn, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, four students enrolled in a senior design capstone course took their class project to the Sixth Annual Mercury Remote Robot Challenge held April 18. The Mountaineers, who faced an international field of competitors from the U.S., Mexico, Columbia and Brazil, finished third behind University of Houston and the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Para�ba in Brazil.
Team leader Haley Smith of Centreville, Virginia, said the group knew they wanted to work together on a project and a presentation by Klinkhachorn, who has led several highly successful robotic competitions teams at WVU, helped seal the deal.
“The opportunity to participate in an international competition and get our names out there was a great experience,” said Smith, who has accepted a position as a junior software developer with Computer Sciences Corporation in Falls Church, Virginia. “I didn’t want to leave WVU without building something.”
The competition challenges teams to create robots that traverse a course featuring 90-degree turns, quick switchbacks, a bridge with a 30-degree incline and curved turns, ending with a sprint to the end. Robots must also pick up a golf ball before the bridge and deposit it at an indicated location.
The robot must be controlled via the Internet from at least 50 miles away. Robots also needed to pass a loss of signal test, recognizing and acting accordingly when commands from the operator are lost. Construction of the robot tested the student’s ability when it came to electrical and mechanical design, embedded programming, wireless communication and latency.
As team leader, Smith, under competition rules, was the only member of the team allowed to touch the robot prior to the start of the competition. Once the competition started, Dustin Matheny of Lost Creek, the robot handler, was the only one allowed to deal with issues encountered on the course.
“Other teams were having difficulty with their camera systems,” said Matheny. “Their robots were smaller and more agile than ours but they appeared to have problems controlling them because they were so fast and nimble.”
The key, Smith said, to the Mountaineers success was the team’s use of a Microsoft Surface tablet for increased processing power. Because the Surface has as much processing power as a full-sized computer, Smith explained, the team barely had any lag in its camera.
“Our robot was described as ‘The tank from West Virginia,’” said Eric Loy of Keyser. “Everybody at the competition was talking about it because it was the largest and most powerful robot when compared to the others.
“This was our first time competing here, so now we have learned much more about this competition for future reference,” said Loy, who remained in Morgantown along with team member Steven Kimble II, of Keyser, to handle remote operations.
“I’m very proud of how quickly and well this team of students came together to successfully compete in this event,” said Klinkhachorn. “In a matter of three months, they used some of what we have learned in previous robotics competitions to develop their robot. This kind of hands-on learning will coming in very handy as they graduate from WVU and enter the workforce.”
CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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