Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Robots Racing Robots

As a soon-to-be newly minted graduate of Brigham Young University, my final course in the Computer Engineering curriculum has been the infamous Senior Project. Each semester, the department offers several projects which are designed to represent a range of specialties in the electrical and computer engineering space. External sponsors typically fund the projects and students go from the concept generation through design and construction to prototyping the actual product. In the past, projects have included robotic soccer players, solar powered gizmos and a mini MRI device.

The project I had heard much about and was looking forward to participating in was the robot soccer project. Alas, the project was cancelled for this year to be replaced by the Robot Racers competition, so I signed up for that one instead. The basic premise of the project was to design a robot on the chassis of an R/C car capable of navigating a course autonomously. When the teams were decided, our group was basically the people that weren't picked for any other group. We didn't have much expertise in the areas of control or vision, but we all learned quickly and managed to have a working system in place by the competition yesterday.

As it turns out, our system worked better than any of the other groups. We were the only team which managed to complete the course with some degree of regularity in the time trials and won each of the heats in the head-to-head competition. Part of this was due to the excellent vision work done by Rick and to the great control algorithms designed by Alex. Mike developed the desicion making code, while I kept everyone on task and also wrote the PC based gui which allowed us to quickly change operating parameters between runs.

All-in-all, it was a good experience, and a nice culmination to my time here at BYU. Hopefully, my time as a grad student at the University of Texas will be equally rewarding.