When you think of robots, do you think of science fiction movies? Well think again. Today, robots are part of our everyday life. They’re painting cars, making cookies, driving trains, defusing bombs and so much more.
Robots have been with us for less than 50 years, but the idea of a lifeless creation to do our bidding is much older.
This summer the San Diego City College Robotics Team joined a competition on July 11 that pitted them against 27 other universities.
They placed ninth despite having a budget of $3,000, which paled in comparison to the $70,000 budget of their competitors. The team also won the Most Improved award and a check of $500 that will go towards their next project.
Robotics is a field that combines electronic and mechanical, computer and software engineering in the hopes of building something – in this case, an aquatic vehicle. The team’s lead programmer, Chris Wilson, said the field is not exclusive to engineering majors.
“Most people feel that they can only participate in a robotics project if they possess technical knowledge . the other and possibly larger part of our project consists of marketing. Projects like ours need marketing in order to get the word out . and gain new sponsors,” said Wilson.
The robotics team competed against teams from the University of Texas at Dallas, Duke University, Georgia Tech, MIT, and Virginia Tech, among others.
When asked about his experience with the competition this summer, Wilson said, “It was remarkable. The first couple days are reserved for testing . During those two days VIPs . inspect the work . The VIP’s are mostly competition sponsors looking to recruit young talent.”
One of the benefits of joining the robotics team is that it can be a tremendous boost to a student’s resume while using skills learned in class.
“While we are all there to win, each person was also there to learn. Half the time we were either answering question from other teams or asking questions of the other teams,” Wilson added.
Whether students work on the technical or non-technical side, companies are always looking for people with skills in working with a team.
While preparing for the competition, the team encountered numerous problems, such as not having facilities to test their project. The team settled on using a dumpster filled with water in a team member’s one-car garage to test the vehicle’s mechanics. Another problem was having the case leak one week before the competition. Luckily, two members were able to replace it within 24 hours. This is why having the right design is critical to the team’s project.
A good method the team developed was to use “off-the-shelf” parts to make the project easily repairable. Having experienced this competition, the team is motivated and excited for next year’s event.
“Based on what we learned from this year’s competition we immediately started planning for next year,” said Wilson. “We are working on fashioning next year’s entry to be similar to a zeppelin or blimp. We have a 3-D model of the design on our web site, sdcrobotics.org. This design allows us to half the number of enclosed propellers and thus minimizing power and space requirements.”
As technology advances, the robotics team takes a small step on the path of artificial intelligence.