Robots race to find treasure chest as part of annual competition

Pirate ship robot racing at the Fourth Annual Robot Competition.

Pirate ship robot racing at the College of Engineering’s fourth annual robot competition.

It was a pirate’s life for freshmen engineering students at the fourth annual robot competition Dec. 1.

Student competitors working in teams transformed mBots – educational robots used to learn programming – into mini pirate ships that could navigate autonomously and receive last-minute route information via Bluetooth. The robots followed a map-shaped track in search of a treasure chest, which was actually bottled water, and returned with their loot.

From left to right: Wilmer Arellano, Emmanuela Stanislaus, Juan Cedeno, Samanta Rodriguez, Abdulwahab Alkhadher, Wendy Ordonez and Stephanie Strange

The winning team, Black Pearl made up of Samanta Rodríguez, Lionel Guardia, Juan Cedeno and Abdulwahab Alkhadher, used foam to create black sails and added a menacing skull design. They also used paperboard and wooden sticks for the structure of the ship.

“We were thrilled to find out we won. Building the functional part of the robot took us about 45 minutes. The decoration took us two days. And to program the robot, took us about seven days. A lot of hard work was put into this,” Rodríguez said.

The robots were judged on technical behavior, such as not hitting obstacles at junctions and staying on the line for the duration of the race, and on the aesthetics. They were also evaluated on a two-minute video in which students explained their designs.

Wilmer Arellano, an electrical and computer engineering instructor and one of the founders of the robot competition, was proud of how hard the engineering students worked on their robots.

“I was most pleased about seeing a struggling team transform into a winning team by means of passion and dedication. I offered my help to all students and scheduled six days of special office hours to help the students overcome any difficulties,” Arellano said.

Student watching his pirate ship robot on the track at the Fourth Annual Robot Competition.

Pirate ship robots stayed on the track.

The participating students were enrolled in the College of Engineering’s orientation course. The competition offered the young engineers an opportunity to work on hands-on projects. For instance, the robots were composed of 38 parts that helped teach the students about programming.

The event – sponsored by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Career and Talent Development and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) club – also raises awareness of the many services offered at FIU. CAPS, which provides mental health services to students for free, has been able to reach engineering students because of the competition.

The interactive humanoid robot, Nao, at the Fourth Annual Competition, brought by FIU's IEEE club.

The interactive humanoid robot, Nao, was brought to the competition by FIU’s IEEE club.

“We have seen an increase of engineering students visit CAPS. When they first come to visit us, we ask them how they found out about our services and many have answered because of the robot competition,” said Wendy Ordonez, coordinator of outreach and education media for CAPS, and one of the founders of the robot competition.

The theme of this year’s robot competition was inspired by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) 2018 SoutheastCon Hardware Competition: “Avast me, hearties!” The SoutheastCon Competition is an annual conference where electrical and computer engineering professionals, faculty and students come together to learn about the latest advancements in engineering.