Students will defend their title in robot competition

Will Kotheimer

A small robot about as big as a textbook drives its way through a maze enclosed by a box that’s 8 feet long and 8 feet wide. It makes its way along the wall, detects an opening, and turns. If it encounters an obstacle, it corrects itself and drives further.

It does this without the help of any radio control.

This is all in preparation for this weekend’s Southeastcon 2011, where the robot is WKU’s entry into the student hardware competition.

WKU’s chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers created the robot for the competition, which is taking place Friday through Monday at Nashville Tech University.

Mike McIntyre, an associate engineering professor and faculty advisor for IEEE, said this year’s competition was to design a robot that could rescue people during natural disasters.

WKU won the hardware event last year, but McIntyre said the event will be harder this year.

“I think the major difference between last year and this year, was that the course itself was not very complicated, which allowed us not to need a microcontroller to make decisions,” he said.

McIntyre said the students are not simply applying information they learned in their classes, but instead must learn new skills for the project.

Bowling Green senior Adam Emberton, who developed the design of the robot’s internal programming mechanism, said the robot had to be programmed to navigate around obstacles and detect magnetic fields coming from the hardware representing the “victim.”

To do this, the students had to figure out several different sensor technologies, Emberton said.

“We had to find ways to control all those sensors,” he said. “Vision sensors especially are extremely complex– we were very lucky to find something that was very simple to do that with the microcontrollers we were used to using.”

Randy Fulling, a senior from Evansville, Ind., who is representing WKU for the first time this year, said there are points taken off if the robot detects something that it shouldn’t.

“We get points deducted if we say there’s a victim and there’s not and it’s just an obstacle,” he said.

Fulling said this event was especially big for WKU this year, since they won last year.

“We want to live up to last year,” Fulling said. “They set the bar high.”