The Illinois Tech Robotics (ITR) student organization is dedicated to providing Illinois Tech students with an outlet for sharing their interests in the field of robotics by granting them the opportunity to unite, learn together, and even design their own robotic machines. In addition to volunteering at events such as the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition, ITR also regularly competes in the Midwestern Robotics Design Competition (MRDC) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as part of the university’s Engineering Open House.
At the 2018 MRDC, held on March 10 and 11, ITR brought four of its own robots, named Goliath, Fenrir, Roslund, and Icarus. Goliath, designed by ITR alum Nash Kaminski, is a wedge-shaped robot designed for scoring balls and the competition’s sequencing game. Fenrir is a two-wheeled, gravity-driven robot, very fast and agile but also difficult to control. Roslund, ITR’s oldest robot that is still in service is a classic box-shaped robot with an isosceles triangle on its top as a mounting point for an arm and with two manipulators attached. Finally, Icarus is a quadcopter, designed to score in the sequencing game by simply landing on the buttons necessary.
Every year, the design committee of MRDC designs a new competition for the robots. This year, four robots at a time were placed on a field measuring 44 feet by 44 feet, with each robot fitting within a cube with sides measuring 3 feet all around and weighing 140 pounds. To score, the robots had to press a randomized sequence of buttons to release a soccer ball, which then had to be placed into a bin on an elevated platform, accessible via a ramp. Alternatively, the robots could score points by operating a pulley system, raising a 10-pound weight up 20 feet, which then released several foam balls. These balls then had to be placed into a communal goal, with the opportunity for other robots to deny scoring by the other teams through defensive maneuvering.
On the day of the actual tournament matches, Roslund was able to complete the sequencing game to advance to the second round while Goliath and Fenrir made it based on their defensive plays. Icarus lost control and crashed while trying to finish the sequencing game and was thus eliminated from the competition. Unfortunately, none of ITR’s robots advanced past the quarterfinals of the main competition, but they were still regarded as one of the most entertaining teams by the crowd for providing several visual spectacles. For example, during the competition, Fenrir fell onto its side but a combination of angular momentum mastery and some driver creativity led to Fenrir springing back to life not once, but twice. Also interestingly, Goliath’s design led to the judges changing some rules of the competition. The field has designated contact zones where robots can hit other robots and because of its wedge shape, Goliath is able to flip other robots. After ITR’s defensive play in the first round, the judges altered the rules to protect other robots from Fenrir and Goliath’s 100 pound welded steel frames.
During the demolition of the phase of the competition, ITR was able to really shine as Fenrir and Goliath destroyed all of the competition before facing off in a final duel. After six minutes of battle, Goliath was able to knock Fenrir over the arena’s safety walls, pin it down, and claim victory.
A number of ITR’s members were able to share their experiences with TechNews. ITR Treasurer Kislay Bhagat described how, “MRDC can definitely be one of the most stressful times of the year as we spend sleepless nights trying to machine and build things in the weeks leading up to competition and the night before in the hotel rooms, but at the end of the day when you see the robots you made compete out there on the field, there is that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment you feel which makes it worth it.” In addition, ITR President Jerry Sha remarked nostalgically upon the experience, telling TechNews, “Having been to 4 MRDCs, I can say that it's quite the competitive experience. There are a lot of things that make you wanna clench your teeth, yell, or reach for the nearest hammer, but there's also a lot of excitement, fun, and 'wow, that just happened' moments. In the end, a diverse group of students came together to meet a challenge, did their best as a team, and every individual grew from the experience.”
Students who are interested in learning more about Illinois Tech Robotics can visit their website at illinoistechrobotics.org, join the organization on HawkLink, email them at [email protected] or attend any general body meeting held weekly on Friday nights at 7 p.m. in their lab in Tech South.