The IEEE Robotics Team at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has taken on a serious design challenge. They're building a robot to compete in the 24th annual Jerry Sanders Design Competition (JSDC).
Held in March, the JSDC brings college design teams together for two days of intense robot battling. This year's challenge involves Nerf balls! RobotWorx is proud to be a IEEE at UIC Robotics Team sponsor.
In this interview team captain Michal Talarczyk talks about the group, the competition, and their design strategy.
RobotWorx: How many students are on the UIC Robotics Team?
Talarczyk: We currently have 11 active members. These members attend meetings, add input on our online forums, present research to the group, and design and work on assigned tasks.
RobotWorx: What majors are represented on the team?
Talarczyk: The majority of our group members are majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering, but we also have members that are majoring in Bio-Engineering and Physics. We don't have specific guidelines on who can join. My belief is that diversity in our members' studies gives us the ability of interconnecting our knowledge by working on a common goal. This prepares us for the real world where more than likely we will have to work with others that may not necessarily have the same degree. Also a huge advantage to having a diverse group is that we are able to share our knowledge on the different components and mechanics of the robot.
RobotWorx: Does the IEEE Robotics Team have an advisor?
Talarczyk: We work with everyone. We gather information from our teachers, counselors and anyone that we can get a hold of that may be able to answer our questions or explain what we are stuck on. We also work with counselors and past teachers to tour our community and the campus classes to get others interested in our team and in our school.
RobotWorx: Does your robot any distinguishing characteristics?
Talarcyzk: It will be about 3' x 3' x 2' high. We are fortunate enough to be supplied with titanium for our robot chassis through a generous sponsorship. It will have a robotic hand that we designed. It will be powered by two motors, each motor will power two wheels, so in total the robot will be four wheel driven, the robot will be able to move at speeds of around 16 to 18 mph.
RobotWorx: What has been the most difficult design challenge so far?
Talarcyzk: For this competition we have to be able to pick up four inch Nerf balls from the ground and transfer them to 4' x 4' x 9" high basin. In the competition there will be also three other teams competing in picking up as many balls as they can and putting them inside their own basin for points. There will also be "tasks" that the robot can perform for additional point like "opening a door" and "firing a cannon". The trouble is you can only pick up one ball at a time and steal one ball at a time from the other three team's basins.
So the difficulty comes in making the best device to perform all those tasks. We went through a design which used a vacuum to pick up balls of the ground, which was insufficient since they were four inch diameter foam balls that we had to pick up and the vacuums that we tested (handheld Dirt Devil vacuums) weren't powerful enough to lift up the balls, plus we wouldn't be able to perform any additional task. We also had the idea of using a conveyor belt to sandwich balls between it to draw them up into the robot, but again we weren't able to perform actions.
We made a list of what we needed the arm to do before we made or tested any of our new ideas; able to rotate 180 degrees sideways, change height, grasp objects, pick up balls, and extend about three feet forward (for stealing). Then we came up with two plans for our robotic hand: one that resembled a crane and the other where we used a linear actuator attached to a hand. I'm still in the process of getting all the details together for the two plans, like how to position wires going to the hand (grasper) so they don't need to be on the outside of the robot.
RobotWorx: What do you see as the main challenges of this year's JSD competition course/assignment?
Talarcyzk: The hardest part of the project so far is for the group to decide on a set design. We went through countless drawn designs and prototypes before we decided on a set design. That took the most time thus far, but I'm glad that it did since we found many flaws with our past design, which saved us both time and money in the long run. We are on a tight budget so we have to be conservative with our design. We always have to measure twice and cut once. We had to design and make our own parts to fit within the budget. This isn't always a bad thing, since we are taking a deeper look into each part that we put into the robot. I'm sure that we will run into many more problems, but as a team I know we'll be able to overcome them.
RobotWorx: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Talarcyzk: I am starting the Robotics team back up again for IEEE and the support of companies like RobotWorx helps us make it possible to compete in this year's JSDC. We are honored to display your company's logo on our t-shirts, posters and robot to show your support in the community. We look forward to working with RobotWorx this year.
Stay tuned for more updates about the IEEE at UIC Robotics Team RobotWorx sponsorship.