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Student-Designed Robots Compete Head-to-Head For Glory and Prizes

Fifteen autonomous robots and their student designers vie for a $4,000 first prize at the 17th Annual Undergraduate Design Competition at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

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May 13, 2008 | by Megan Fellman
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Cool robots go head-to-head on a challenging course with an announcer calling the competition. Fans (and rock music) cheer them on. Students wear team names such as "JK Flip Flop" and "The King of Hearts," and referees are in black-and-white stripes. And just like NCAA tournaments, brackets show the best teams moving toward the final match.

This will be the colorful scene at Northwestern University Saturday, May 17, as 15 autonomous robots and their student designers vie for a $4,000 first prize at the 17th Annual Undergraduate Design Competition at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Free and open to the public, this year's competition, named "Counter Strike," will start at 12:45 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 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 event is expected to conclude around 4 p.m. with an awards ceremony. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three teams: $4,000 for first place, $2,000 for second and $1,000 for third.

One team also will be honored with the design competition's annual Myke Minbiole Elegant Engineering Award. McCormick alumnus Minbiole, who had been working as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, was killed in a hit-and-run collision in April 2007. The award was created as a tribute to his approach of technically elegant engineering.

Teams of Northwestern undergraduates representing a variety of engineering fields have spent six months designing, building and programming autonomous robots using various parts, including microprocessors, actuators, motors, gears and electronic sensors. Remote control is not permitted.

This year each team has constructed a robot to pick up six steel balls and shoot them across an eight-by-eight foot arena, past an opponent robot and into a goal. Most of the robots use lasers to target the goal.

The competition will be conducted in separate head-to-head speed duels, each two minutes long, with a double-elimination format.

Industry sponsors include DMC, General Motors, Northrop Grumman, Deloitte and Federal-Mogul.

More information on the 2008 Design Competition is available at http://dc2008.info or from Yee Hoong Chow, Design Competition chair.