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Release: Dec. 11, 2001

Photo: An example of a robot made from the Lego Mindstorm Robotics Invention System 2.0.

Engineering students to hold Dec. 14 robot competition

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Robots are often portrayed as the villains in science fiction movies; however, they'll be judged as potential heroes when they perform simulated "search and rescue" maneuvers at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 14 in Room 2217 of the Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts and Sciences.

That's when three teams involving about 15 University of Iowa College of Engineering students will hold a competition to design and build robots using Lego Mindstorm Robot kits. Then the real challenge begins: to program the robots to autonomously search for "people" -- represented by checkers -- and bring them safely home. The lesson to be learned by the students, all of whom are enrolled in the "Computers in Engineering" class, is two-fold, according to Andrew Williams, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and class instructor.

First, they'll learn how to design and build devices as a team in a competitive atmosphere similar to the environment they may encounter in business and industry. Secondly, the student teams will be required to design a web page to document their designs. Williams notes that the competition takes on a serious note when one realizes that remote controlled robots are beginning to be used in real world situations.

"This is a fun way for students to learn computer programming skills and to realize that computers may have some humanitarian uses," Williams says. "There were some robots used to investigate the World Trade Center wreckage, and robots are being considered as alternatives to humans in looking for land mines in many Third World countries."

The overall winners, as judged by a panel of faculty members, will receive prizes valued at $6,000 and provided by Microsoft Research of Redmond, Wash.