A team of students at the University of Missouri-Rolla is worried about its robot.
Building an autonomous robot is very much a hands-on project. But once the robot enters the obstacle course at the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition, the students can’t touch it.
“Once you let it go, it has to drive itself,” says team member Paul Robinette, a UMR senior in computer engineering and physics.
The competition will be held June 10-12 at Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit. Most university teams are entering four-wheel models, but UMR’s robot is perched on a three-wheel-drive vehicle.
“Four wheels are easier to control, but they don’t have as much maneuverability,” says Robinette.
The larger robots typically weigh 200 pounds or more. At a maximum speed of 5 mph, avoiding mistakes is the key to doing well in the obstacle course event.
Approximately 20 teams will be competing in Michigan. UMR is actually entering two robots, one from last year and another, smaller version, built this year. Teams are allowed up to three entries.
“We didn’t do that well last year, but we learned from our mistakes and we think we’ve got a much better chance this time,” says Robinette.
The new robot is called Stereo-Opticon; its older brother is named Optical Prime.
Orange cones are placed throughout the obstacle course. The robots must be able to differentiate colors and sizes, among other things. Team members have outfitted the UMR vehicles, which run on rechargeable batteries, with sonar and infrared sensors, stereo cameras and global positioning systems.
While the robots must negotiate the obstacle course by themselves, team members are still on the hook for design reports and presentations.
Robinette says the software and controls are the most technical aspects of designing and manufacturing an autonomous robot. He adds that team members are thinking about some of the same problems that a NASA engineer might consider when designing a Mars rover.
The team’s advisor is Dr. Daniel McAdams, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.