Friday December 9, 2016

“Sumo Bot” Competition Draws Crowd to Kettering Labs

By Kelly Garrow

Tim Reissman, a first-year faculty member in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, wanted to give his students in MEE 434 a hands-on assignment that would challenge their engineering and innovation skills.

The class is mechatronics, a blend of mechanics, electronics, and programming, and the assignment was one Reissman developed with his doctoral adviser as a graduate student at Cornell.

With Reissman’s arrival on campus, the inaugural University of Dayton “Sumo Bot” tournament was born.

The idea is to build a robot vehicle that can operate autonomously with only sensors and pre-programmed offensive and defensive maneuvers—no remote control. The bots face off in a one-meter diameter ring with the goal of pushing their opponent out of the ring like a Sumo wrestler. The tournament was double elimination with a redemption round for robots that lost one match. Although schools do similar competitions, this was a first at the University and not a common assignment at the undergraduate level.

Each team of two was given a kit with the same sensors, body frame and battery power. Competitors could make any modifications and additions they wished up to a $30 limit, but the final product had to weigh less than one kilogram and fit within an 8" x 8” box. Each team developed strategies and tactics to gain a competitive advantage. A precursor to the popular driverless cars being developed, the robots must operate autonomously.

More than 30 students, faculty members, staff and friends gathered in Kettering Labs room 321 in early December to watch and cheer on the eight competing teams. The eventual winners, Brandon Smith and Kyle Vanden Eynden, senior mechanical engineering majors, looked strong from the start and only lost one match during the entire tourney.

Their strategy? 

“Power and traction,” said Brandon. The pair designed a vehicle at the top end of the weight limit with larger wheels, sensor “eyes” that continually scanned the ring for input and a yellow 3-D printed shield that protected their bot from competitors who had designed shovel-like mechanisms to gain leverage.

Although neither are programmers, Kyle noted that the Arduino electronics control board that came with their starter kit was very useful. The pair programmed their bot with many options for moves, so it would try something different every five seconds based on input from the sensors, which in their case moved like virtual eyes to better scan the ring. The students spent 15-20 hours apiece to gain a competitive advantage. “There was lots of trial and error,” Kyle noted.

"I was very impressed with the variety of competitive strategies used,” Reissman said. “My UD engineers showed me that they were not afraid to both create and innovate. I was truly proud of their designs. I look forward to the next wave of contenders in the spring!"

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