Northwestern Robot Design Competition

Northwestern Robot Design Competition

For the fifth year, DMC was one of the sponsors for Northwestern University’s annual Design Competition.  The Design Competition (a.k.a “DC”) challenges students to design, build, and program an autonomous robot that competes against other robots in a simple task or game.  DC provides students with excellent hands-on experience in all the aspects that are required to make a successful robot, such as: designing electromechanical systems, working with various sensors and actuators, programming robustly, and anticipating the unexpected.  Also, as a former DC competitor, I can personally attest that the competition is a whole lot of fun.  Now that I work at DMC, I was happy to attend the competition this year and represent DMC.

Looking back on my own experience in DC, I see a lot of similarities between my job and my time spent building robots in the mechatronics lab at Northwestern.  Both offer unique and interesting challenges that require strategic planning, a bit of creativity, a lot of cool code, and clever troubleshooting.  In fact, I first heard about DMC because they were a sponsor when I competed.  I enjoyed DC so much that I wanted to continue programming robots and working with electromechanical systems, so I looked into what DMC does and found that it aligns very well with my interests.  And in hindsight, I was totally right.

As an employee at DMC, I now see the other side of the relationship.  Not only are students competing in the Design Competition interested in DMC because it is a cool company, but DMC likes students whose interests align with the Design Competition. We have hired at least four DC winners (including myself) and at least a couple other participants as well.

This year’s competition pitted robots head-to-head in a challenging game.  The game involved collecting foam cubes from known locations (with the aid of a line on the ground, if necessary) and then bringing them back to a scoring area.  Extra points were awarded for lifting the cubes into an elevated portion of the scoring area.  To add to the challenge, the scoring areas were slowly shifting from one side of the arena to the other.  (For the complete rules, click here.)

The tricky game provided many opportunities for excitement.  Near collisions, fumbled cubes, and wheels falling off of robots added the necessary elements of surprise.  The team that most reliably played the game and eventually won the competition was Team Googly Eyes.  They creatively utilized PC cooling fans to blow the foam cubes into an interior collection area, then used another fan to blow the cubes up into the elevated scoring area to score 9 points per cube.  Since the foam cubes are virtually invisible to all simple sensors (like lasers and sonar that are typically used in this competition), Googly Eyes relied on very accurate and repeatable dead reckoning to travel to the locations where the known cubes were located. 

Seeing what all of the teams at Northwestern’s Design Competition had accomplished made me proud that my company supports such a great experience for students.  My only wish is that they would still let me compete… 


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