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UIC's robots rock the rest

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Dalia Garcia, Sam Choi, Dan Belarmino, Nick Novak and Pratik Mehta celebrate their wins.
Dalia Garcia, Sam Choi, Dan Belarmino, Nick Novak and Pratik Mehta celebrate their wins.

Photo: Matt Byrne

Take a gymnasium court, add ramps, tiers and carpeting, dance club lights flashing to a techno beat, and you’ve created the venue for … (drum roll) … robots to rock!

But it was the engineering students rolling and controlling the robots who really showed their stuff at the 21st annual AMD Jerry Sanders Design Competition in Urbana-Champaign.

The UIC team defeated 15 opponents from UIUC, IIT, Valparaiso and Iowa State to capture first and fourth place.

“It took a lot of work,” says senior Nick Novak, a double major in mechanical and electrical engineering and captain of the team operating “Ares,” the UIC robot that won first prize.

“We started with just the wheels, drive train and frame and had to build something to go on top and move around and manipulate the objects. We put in, on average, 20 hours a week.”

This year’s prize extended Ares’ winning record. The robot won first place in 2006 and third place last year in the Urbana-Champaign contest named for Sanders, a UIUC alum who co-founded computer chip maker AMD, sponsor for the contest.

Robots built by the UIC student group Chicago Engineering Design Team successfully battled their way through elimination rounds to the finals over the two-day competition March 7 and 8.

The robots, which resemble super-sized radio-controlled toy trucks, had to grab either Hula-Hoops or Frisbees, then hook or deliver them to specified areas randomly indicated by a colored spotlight. The more items delivered, the more points earned.

Four teams competed against each other on the course each round. Pushing and shoving were part of the contest.

“Near the end of the competition, UIUC teams started to gang up on us,” says Novak. “One of our robots, Odin — which we hoped would take second place — three UIUC robots teamed up and flipped Odin over.

“None of UIUC’s teams were in the top four then, so that must have made them angry,” Novak guesses.

Another UIC robot that held its grip was “Thor,” the fourth-prize winner commanded by team captain Steven Kearney, a senior in mechanical engineering.

He credits UIC’s victories to their ability to prepare for the unexpected.

“While you can’t work every single possibility, it’s how you handle the unexpected situations that makes the difference between losing and winning,” says Kearney. “We meet these unexpected situations by using our engineering skills quickly and on the spot.”

The wins earned the team a total of $2,500 in prize money, which will be used to build and modify robots for future competitions.

UIC student groups from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers also competed.

The winning design team’s faculty advisers are Sabri Cetinkunt in mechanical and industrial engineering, and Roland Priemer and Milos Zefran in electrical and computer engineering.

Major sponsors included the College of Engineering, Panduit, Christopher Burke Engineering, Underwriters Laboratories and Sargent & Lundy.


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