Robot building — a final students actually enjoy

CSE students make robots that can complete simple tasks.

by Rachel Raveling

Nearly 230 students from the College of Science and Engineering showed off self-constructed robots they had designed for their Introduction to Engineering class Monday.

Students designed robots that could prepare a bowl of cereal, slice pizza, water plants when the soil dries out and other simple tasks. Each robot was required to have at least one moving part and operate on its own for at least 30 seconds.

This is the 10th year of âÄúThe Robot ShowâÄù where students in the CSE class were given a kit including a computer board, a motor, batteries, a few electronic components and hand tools to complete their design, said mechanical engineering professor Will Durfee. Students were limited to spending $50 of their own money to complete the robot. He said âÄúThe Robot ShowâÄù is the worldâÄôs largest noncompetitive robot event.

Durfee said the studentsâÄô final projects make up a large percentage of their total class grade.

Students are assigned the project in order to give them experience in designing, building and demonstrating their work, he said. Many students have designed projects like these before, but never actually had to execute them.

âÄúIf you didnâÄôt do the project you would basically fail the class,âÄù said Adam Weimerskirch, a mechanical engineering junior.

He said he has learned more from this one project, where he was required to build his design, than he ever has before in a class.

WeimerskirchâÄôs design âÄìâÄì âÄúPolice SUVâÄù âÄìâÄì traveled to and from a crime scene with flashing lights at the touch of a button. The car drives without need for human operation and knows when to stop. He said his biggest challenge was containing all the hardware into the compact space of a small-scale vehicle.

Groups of three judges, the majority of which were engineers from Minnesota businesses, watched each demonstration for creativity, performance and technical elements, said Russ Straate, vice president for research at the UniversityâÄôs Venture Center. This was his first year judging the show.

âÄúYou can tell a lot about the project just by listening and watching the engagement of the kid,âÄù said John Bushey, a judge and self-employed engineer.

He said it was obvious who put in a lot of work and who made a machine in a hurry.

The judges looked at the studentsâÄô lab books and designs and asked questions about where the ideas came from.

Weimerskirch said while demonstrating his work, a wire broke in his robot, and he had to quickly take apart the inside of the vehicle before it was his turn to be judged. A separate room dedicated to fixing any last-minute robot mishaps âÄî âÄúthe robot hospitalâÄù âÄî was not far away, and he was able to fix the wire and make quick adjustments.

Though all students are required to participate, Durfee said they usually report having a lot of fun.

The show also gives CSE an opportunity to showcase its studentsâÄô skills to the general public and engineering companies, he said.