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Whose ’bot is the best? The UW’s ’bot is — at least according to the International Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) held in June. During that event, UW-Madison’s IEEE Robotics Team — and its creation, Paradroid — took first place for design, garnering the highest honor that a UW robot has received.

IGVC is an annual event held at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Teams of robotics engineers from around the country compete to see which can design and build an automaton that can accomplish simple tasks — such as navigating an obstacle course — without human aid or direction. Paradroid, a four-wheeled buggy that looks something like a small golf cart, won the design phase of the competition, meaning that the UW team performed best at describing and presenting its design concept.

For its efforts, the UW team won just $2,000 — hardly a fortune, but still important for this underfunded group of students within the College of Engineering.

IEEE (formerly known as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is a professional organization devoted to promoting technology. The Robotics Team was previously associated with IEEE, but isn’t anymore. (According to Ted Steiner x’10, the break occurred before any of the current members joined the team, and it’s too difficult to change the official name now.) It receives very little outside funding, meaning that the team had to raise not only the $3,500 necessary for Paradroid’s components, but also cash for travel and other expenses.

“We build all of the stuff we can ourselves, including the circuit boards,” says Steiner, who was one of the lead designers for the 2009 team, and he believes that the team’s parsimony helped land them their prize.

“We really worked in the spirit of the competition,” he says. “Some of the teams were able to buy their components and their software. We had to learn it all ourselves.”

For the 2010 competition, the robotics team is working on two projects — an improved Paradroid and a new creation, built from scratch.

Published in the Winter 2009 issue

Tags: Engineering, Students, Teaching and learning

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