What a great idea: Students are learning STEM concepts through robotics.
Two robots are locked in battle in the center of a 7-foot hexagon. These shoebox-sized robots built by UCSC students shot pingpong balls at the enemy, while cameras projected the action on overhead screens for the crowd of nearly 400.
Nearly 60 students participated in the 10th annual Slugs vs. Bugs robotics competition, the capstone of associate professor Gabriel Elkaim’s Introduction to Mechatronics.
Teams spent four sleep-deprived weeks creating autonomous robots that could sense obstacles and boundaries of the battlefield and shoot pingpong balls at their opponents.
“Without a doubt, this is the hardest class on campus, at least in terms of time sink,” Elkaim said.
Students spent around 100 hours per week designing shapes, connecting sensors and programming software to create a robot that could react to its environment and make decisions. According to a time lapse video, the only time the classroom lab was empty was between 6 to 8 a.m., said Elkaim.
The all-consuming dedication the project requires causes students to stretch beyond what they think they’re capable, he said.
“They’ll either rise to the challenge or fail spectacularly,” said Elkaim. “And when they fail spectacularly, they’ll know failure is not fatal.”
Seniors Jack Robinson, Stephanie Weber and Cameron Gravel designed the winning robot, named “The Gold Ranger”, the smallest in the field of 19.
“We wanted her small and fast, so she could navigate,” said Weber.
The team decided to remove the robot’s shooter, to lighten its load and allow it to dash toward the enemy’s gate, ending the round.
Gravel said the team worked furiously to the last minute, performing emergency surgery on a fried regulator and troubleshooting with the sensors. He said the trial by fire reaffirmed his goal of a career in systems programming, writing code for robots.