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April 12, 2017

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COE robotics teams are on a roll

CARBONDALE, Ill. – The College of Engineering’s robotics teams have been on a tear lately, winning big at two recent competitions.

In March, two of its robotics teams came home with the top spots after competing at the Midwest Robotics Design Competition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

And in November, the robotics team swept the Association of Technology Management and Applied Engineering national robotics competition in Orlando, Fla., winning nearly half of all the possible points available to teams competing.

At the March competition, a team from the registered student organization affiliated with ATMAE, as well as another team named SIU Robotics – placed first and second, respectively.

The two-day competition tested the skills and creativity of the engineering students, who were participating in one of the longest-running robotics competitions in the country. It was just the second time SIU participated in the competition. Last year, the ATMAE team from SIU made its debut at the MRDC and captured second place.

The ATMAE team was unofficially nicknamed “the senior team,” as it was mostly made up of seniors who spent a large portion of their budget on top technology for their robot. The SIU Robotics team, by contrast, was nicknamed “the budget team,” as it challenged itself to spend as little as possible, using old components and leftovers in a creative way to field a winner.

The budget team mostly was comprised of salty veterans from last year’s second-place team, said Brad Vahling, design team captain and a senior in industrial technology from Teutopolis. 

“This competition win was a team effort,” Vahling said. “We invest a lot of time developing our group. Our team is very good at overcoming obstacles and working together to solve problems and coming up with innovative solutions. Throughout our design process we had several brainstorming sessions with full team participation. We try to utilize our members for what they are best at.”

Bruce DeRuntz, professor of technology and faculty adviser to the ATMAE team, said learning is most effective when students are able to apply the technical principles they learn in the classroom, and SIU’s College of Engineering excels at providing such opportunities.

“Additionally, being a part of a design competition team gives our students a wonderful identity in the college and an incredible group of friends that they will keep the rest of their life,” DeRuntz said.

DeRuntz said the ATMAE Robotics team has demonstrated the ability to punch above its weight in such competitions.

“The team dominates competitors who have far greater resources,” he said. “Our team succeeds because of their unwavering focus on the two principles that are most important to employers. First, they are able to effectively plan, organize and execute a project on time, under budget, and meet performance objectives. Second, they go to great lengths to build their team before they build the robot.

“What they learned here will be transferred into successful careers and they will again out-shine the completion,” DeRuntz said.

Each year, the competition designs a new challenge for teams to meet, based on the requirements and tasks each robot must complete.

Vahling said teamwork and communication also were key to the SIU teams winning the top spots in the MRDC, by helping them manage the clock, monitor their competitors and navigate the course effectively.

In November, the robotics team swept the ATMAE national robotics competition in Orlando, Fla., winning nearly half of all the possible points available to teams competing.

That competition featured both an obstacle course and a course in which the robot had to run autonomously during a relay race. The SIU robot, dubbed “Dusty 2.0,” dominated the head-to-head competition, which was worth 40 percent of the overall scoring. The team also took first place in all the remaining categories, which included Best Electronic Control Methodology, Best Fabrication/Innovation, Best Poster, Best Technical Presentation and Audience Favorite.