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No Remote Control

Autonomous student-designed robots battle it out for pride and cash prizes May 21

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May 18, 2011 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Fifteen autonomous robots will go head-to-head Saturday, May 21, as their student designers vie for a $3,000 first prize at the 20th 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 competition, student ingenuity and technology as well as food and music.

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

Teams of Northwestern undergraduates from a variety of engineering fields have spent six months designing, building and programming their robots to operate autonomously. Often teams are cross-departmental, and students of all years work together, learning from one another.

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 in a large rectangular arena. Each one is assigned a color and tries to gather cylindrical objects to score points. Robots score points in three ways: by depositing objects on its side of the arena; by depositing objects in a bonus zone toward the rear of each side for extra points; and by flipping the objects so its color faces up.

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.

Topics: Campus Life