U students showcase robots at alumni center

Neil Munshi

A tiny scoreboard switched from 24-20 to 24-27 as the “Minnesota Rouser” morphed into the Michigan school song and a plastic 12-inch Glen Mason choked itself Monday.

With the model, Alex Cecchini took out some of his frustrations by creating a robot that made people laugh. Cecchini’s robot, aptly titled “Glen Mason Chokes,” was one of 210 student entries in the 2004 ME2011 Robot Show at the McNamara alumni center.

“He’s taken a lot of other crap, and he makes like a million dollars, so hopefully he’ll laugh too,” Cecchini said about Mason.

The event made the Memorial Hall and the A.I. Johnson Great Room smell like a burned-out remote control car from the tiny motors that were running for several hours.

Mechanical engineering professor Will Durfee said the show was noncompetitive and a way for beginning engineering students to learn what it is like to be a real-world engineer.

“You can learn a little about it in books,” Durfee said. “But you really have to go through this process to understand where the theory and reality don’t match.”

By engaging students in a deadline-driven, constructive design process in which results matter, they saw how their knowledge applies to real-world experiences, he said.

“Even though the machines are fun and fanciful, the process (students) went through is very real,” he said.

There were many varieties of student-built robots made out of everything from cardboard to tin cans, erector sets to copper pipes and fishing poles to xylophones.

Aside from Cecchini’s robot, students’ projects filled several tables with varying items. Those included Kool-Aid makers, a bowling game, automatic card dealers, a breakfast maker, a mouse hypnotizer, change sorters and drink pourers. Photo:

According to the show’s rules, students created robots that did something interesting, fit in a specified space and operated without human interaction for 20 seconds to 45 seconds. Students were each given two small motors and a computer chip to run their programs and could spend up to $30 of their own money.

Mechanical engineering sophomore David Grandall created the “Metallophonistic Challenge,” which at the touch of a button played the Christmas song “Ding Dong Merrily on High.”

He said he had fun creating his robot and the process had practical implications.

“(It) gives us a hands-on opportunity to learn what mechanical engineering is about,” he said. “It is engineering, and the practical application is extremely important.”

A second robot show is scheduled today for mechanical engineering seniors at 2 p.m. in Coffman Union.