David and Goliath: Furman’s Robotics Team

Furman's Robotics Team go on a journey to create Aldo, short for Aldous Huxley, a robot that took second place at a competition in New York.

By Rachel Chen

On Sept. 29, Furman University’s Robotics Team traveled to New York to compete for the first time, and came home in second place. Atmel Corporation, a manufacturer of microcontrollers, sponsored five teams from all over the country through the Atmel University Program. Teams were challenged to bring the Atmel mascot, Mel, to life.

The competition was held at World Maker Faire in Queens on that Saturday. Furman University’s team- Kristina Pardo, Andrea Fant, Evdokiya Kostadinova and Haris Khan-won second place for their robot, Aldo, who was named for the  writer Aldous Huxley.

This win was especially significant for the team because it was their first-ever competition. This is also the first time that Frman has fielded a robotics team. According to Dr. John Conrad, a Physics professor and the team’s adviser, this win could be compared to the biblical story of David and Goliath. In this case, Furman University represented David and the other four teams were Goliath, because they came in with more experience prior to the competition.

The competition itself was anything but easy, and the teams had their work cut out for them from the very first day. Over the summer, all the teams from each of the universities were asked to write up a paper describing their design of the robot. In addition to the paper, they were also asked to show them videos and pictures of the process, in which Atmel employees would then select a total of five teams to compete in the semifinal rounds.

When the final five were chosen, they were judged by a panel of four judges made up of top Atmel personalities. The judges looked for a team-oriented performance of the robot, how well the students solved the problems, and their ability to communicate with one another.

Atmel intended for the robot to be modeled after a warehouse inventory robot. Teams were required to autonomously navigate, (following an optical sensor) to the first pedestal position where it would stop, pick up a ball, and determine whether the ball is a ping-pong ball or a golf ball (using a load cell sensor to weigh the ball). According to Dr. Conrad, the robot also had to navigate “a somewhat tortuous path to deposit the ping pong balls and one receptacle bin, and the golf balls in a different bin.”  The robot then returned to the second pedestal, etc. and repeated this procedure until all four balls are retrieved, sorted, transported, and delivered.

Though the process was long and the students spent many hours perfecting Aldo the robot, their hard work indeed paid off at the end of the day when they finished in second.

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