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Student Robots Compete for $10,000 Prize

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May 16, 2006 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Twenty autonomous robots will go head-to-head Saturday, May 20, as their student designers vie for a $10,000 first prize at the 15th Annual Undergraduate Design Competition at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. Free and open to the public, the design competition attracts hundreds of spectators every year who enjoy the display of high technology and student ingenuity as well as food and music.

The competition, named “Leap of Faith,” will start at 1 p.m. at the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, 2133 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus. (A free pizza lunch will be provided at noon.) The event is expected to conclude around 3 p.m. with an awards ceremony. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three teams: $10,000 for first place (the largest prize in the history of the design competition), $2,000 for second and $1,000 for third.

Teams of Northwestern undergraduates representing all engineering majors have spent six months designing and building autonomous robots using microprocessors, motors, gears and electronic sensors. Remote control is not permitted.

This year each team must construct a robot that can somehow propel itself from a standing start across a yawning gap between two high platforms. It's do or die: There are no safety nets for robots that fail, and the penalty for failure is almost certain destruction. But the leap is not the end of the challenge. Each robot must then traverse a steeply inclined ramp to reach floor level and knock over a wine goblet -- the Holy Grail. The competition will be conducted in separate head-to-head speed trials with a double-elimination format.

Industry sponsors include Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Rauland-Borg and Northrop Grumman.

More information on the 2006 design competition is available at <http://msgroups.tech.northwestern.edu/dc/> or from Allen Taflove, professor of electrical and computer engineering, at (847) 491-4127.