The Olympics may be in Rio de Janeiro this summer, but students in mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Nate Delson’s Introduction to Engineering Graphics and Design (MAE3) course competed in their very own version of them right here at the University of California San Diego – the Robot Olympics – with robots that they designed and built themselves.
The main gym at UC San Diego was packed with students on study breaks or in between finals on June 7 as robots went head to head to see who would come out on top. Every year, the MAE3 final is a robot competition with a different theme – this year, the theme was the Olympics. The students in the class were tasked with designing a robot that could pick up 3D-printed medals of different weights – first, second and third place medals – and place them on their respective podiums in under a minute.
“A first place medal on a random podium is worth three points,” said Jackie First, a third year environmental engineering major and tutor for the course. First helped come up with the theme for this year’s final. “But a first place medal on its own podium is worth nine points. Likewise, a second place medal is worth two points on any podium and six on its own, and a third place medal is one point and three on its own podium.”
First also helped to come up with the design for the medals themselves. “Each of the medals is lighter than the first,” said First. For example, the first place medals weigh 46 grams, and the others get progressively lighter.
“This was the first year we had game pieces of different weights,” said Delson. “It forced the students to take engineering analysis into consideration. For example, their robot may only be strong enough to lift the lightest medal, so they have to go back and redo their gear ratio calculations if they want to score more points.”
With six weeks, six motors, two types of plastic, sheet metal, laser cutters and 3D printers at their disposal, most of the students designed their robots to go straight for the first place medals. The students used the resources available to them in both the MAE Design Studio and the EnVision Arts and Engineering Maker Studio at UC San Diego.
First year mechanical engineering majors Kiel Baluca-Tran, Marco Colon and Johnathan Khodr took a unique approach to the competition by creating two robots – one to play defense and another to score points.
“We call them Tom and Jerry,” said Khodr. “Jerry is the smaller of the two, and he crosses to the other side of the playing field to distract the other robot while Tom scores points. We have two drivers and one teammate to hold the wires out of the way.”
Because the students used the materials to create two robots, they only had two motors to use for their scoring robot.
“As a result, our design wasn’t reliable and we were knocked out of the competition in round two,” said Colon. “In theory, it was a great idea and we got a 98/100 on our presentation.”
“A lot of time was spent on the computer or prototyping,” said Baluca-Tran. “It was really rewarding to see it all come together.”
During the final round of the competition, one robot experienced a problem.
“It took a while for the motor to start,” said Andy Snitovsky, a member of the second place team. Snitovsky is undeclared but wants to study mechanical and aerospace engineering after participating in FIRST Robotics and MAE3. “We couldn’t figure it out during the competition but we did some analysis with Professor Delson after it was over and think it’s because our robot was exceeding the specifications of the power supply.”
The winning team was Playing Hooky, which won by placing three first place medals on the highest platform. Features that contributed to their win included a unique friction drive and only using one motor on the rail.
Each team also created a CAD animation or oral presentation slides, which can be seen here.