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Autonomous Robotics Competition: Short Circuit


Just days into Fall semester, students in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Program were thrown quite the challenge. Each semester, ECE students are given a chance to enter the Autonomous Robotics Challenge (ARC).

This semester, students were instructed to design a robot that will race autonomously around a closed circuit, meaning that there could be no use of controllers or forms of manual control. To start the race, an infrared sensor would activate after a 3-second countdown, after which the race cars would immediately start racing around the track.

John Carmen, ECE student and project lead for ARC this year, described some of the robots that were entered into the competition. “We saw robots that would use infrared sensors to judge where they are, sound sensors, and we saw some that would just push up against the wall and ride the wall. There were a lot of great designs—very well-made robots and some great engineering ideas.”

Out of the multiple different designs made, one seemed to clearly be the most efficient: the ‘hug the wall’ strategy.

The two teams that performed the best at this year’s competition both incorporated this design with their robots. Using mechanical arms with horizontally attached wheels, they were able to program their robots to stay tightly connected to the inner wall without crashing.

The final race came down to the two teams using this strategy: “Bob Saget Dynamics” versus “Tom and Jerry.” The effectiveness of this strategy spoke for itself. Each team beat their previous competition without suffering a loss, albeit with one exception, when Tom and Jerry lost to Bob Saget Dynamics.

Despite previously losing to them earlier in the competition, Tom and Jerry were able to pull off a comeback win after a robotics mishap by the other robot. Revenge sure is sweet.

As a reward for the long hours and nights that the teams put in, members of Tom and Jerry were awarded $100 each, and the second-place team received $50 each respectively.

“It’s a culture of creation,” said Carmen. “We’re not just trying to build lights and wire up houses. We’re trying to make things that can change the world. Seeing these people given a few rules, a few criteria, and being able to create amazing robots—this is just the beginning.”

Although we can’t spoil what’s in store for students next semester, rest assured that the future autonomous robotics competitions will continue to bring out the creative and intellectual best from students in our program.