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Built for Victory

Student-designed robots compete for glory and prizes May 22

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May 20, 2010 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Sixteen autonomous robots will go head-to-head Saturday, May 22, as their student designers vie for a $3,000 first prize at the 19th Annual Undergraduate Design Competition at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University.

Free and open to the public, the colorful event attracts hundreds of spectators every year who enjoy the display of high technology and student ingenuity as well as food and music.

This year's competition will start at noon at the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, 2133 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus.

Teams of Northwestern undergraduates representing a variety of engineering fields have spent six months designing, building and programming their robots to operate autonomously. Robots are made up of various parts, including microprocessors, actuators, motors, gears and electronic sensors. Remote control is not permitted, though teams may reprogram robots as often as desired.

This year two robots at a time will compete head-to-head, each one trying to collect metal tokens and wooden tokens distributed along snaking curves painted on an eight-foot-square arena. The robots start on different curves, but the curves intersect at 16 locations, so collisions are possible. Robots able to track faster, collect tokens better and survive collisions without becoming disoriented have the advantage. After a two-minute bout, the team with the most points will advance.

The event is expected to conclude around 3 p.m. with an awards ceremony. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three teams. 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. Engineers from Northrop Grumman who worked with him will choose this year's award winner.

More information on the 2010 Design Competition is available online.