Students gather around the six playing fields during the "Cube Craze" competition in Duffield Hall.

Robotics Day attracts scores to Duffield atrium

With the addition this year of a few twists and turns, the end-of-semester robotics competition grew into a daylong showcase in Duffield Hall atrium.

“I love that we have reached critical mass in robotics at Cornell to host such events, and we hope to make it a bigger communitywide event moving forward,” said Kirstin Petersen, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering (ECE), whose Intelligent Physical Systems course held a maze exploration competition as part of Robotics Day, Dec. 4.

Petersen’s class held its competition in the morning and was followed by mechanical and aerospace engineering’s Mechatronics course, which held its “Cube Craze” event in the afternoon. A total of 77 three-person teams competed on the day; there were also booths set up throughout the atrium with student robotics displays.

Scott Bollt '20, right, makes final adjustments to his team's robot, Great Scott, as teaching assistant Nikhil Ranganathan '19 looks on.

“It’s great seeing how into it the students get on competition day, cheering on the robots, especially in the finals,” said Ben Finio, visiting lecturer in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who taught Mechatronics this fall. “There were some initial concerns that it would be too much to cram both competitions into one day, but we got a ton of logistics and setup help from ECaFT [Engineering Career Fair Team], and everything went off without a hitch.”

In the maze exploration contest, teams collected points based on the amount of square footage a robot could successfully map in five minutes. Four robots moved about the maze simultaneously; bonus points were gained for finding “treasures” attached to the maze walls; robots lost points for crashing into opponents.

The winning team, Angry Reacts, featured Liliet Sosa ’20, Anthony Viego ’20, Kevin Ying ’20 and Glenna Zhang ’20. In the final, their robot successfully mapped out 69 of the 81 square feet in the 9-by-9-foot maze.

Ying admitted to being “in disbelief” at his team’s victory, in front of a massive atrium crowd that included onlookers from the second- and third-floor balconies. “I was trying my best just to contain my energy and not think about anything other than what we could do to improve from round to round,” Ying said.

Second place went to Robots ’n’ Roses, with team members Phillip Donovan Douglas ’20, Ysabel Tan ’20, Sam Feibel ’20 and Annie Kimmel ’21. Third place went to Elevation, and fourth to the Mighty Ducks.

In the afternoon “Cube Craze” competition, robots had to move 1-inch-square wooden blocks onto their opponent’s half of a 16-square-foot, two-colored field. Each robot started with 10 blocks on its half; the team with the fewest blocks on its half of the field after 60 seconds won.

Team Walrus (Oren Alon ’20, Evan Burger ’20, Max Harrow ’20) emerged victorious in the final, beating out Team Steve (Matthew Bedoya ’21, Gabrielle Peralta ’20, Caitlin Tormey ’20).

Students gather in the Duffield Hall atrium, and on the nearby balconies, to take in the Mechatronics class "Cube Craze" final competition Dec. 4.

Finio was impressed with the winning team’s “remarkably simple” approach – drive forward and stop. The team attached coin rolls to the robot to add weight, and put rubber stoppers underneath, making it very difficult for other bots to push it.

“It would push a bunch of cubes onto the other side of the arena in the first few seconds of the match, then just sit there,” Finio said. “That beat out other robots that had much more complicated algorithms and sensors – a great example of how sometimes simpler is better.”

Walrus earned the right to face off in an exhibition against the entry from ASML, a Dutch computer chip-maker and sponsor of the class. The ASML Blue Barn Owls robot defeated Walrus by two blocks.

Kyle Darling ’15, a design engineer at ASML who represented the company, was impressed by the growth of Robotics Day since he competed as an undergraduate.

“I am glad to see the event growing with the addition of the ECE challenge and booths by student organizations,” Darling said. “I know how much effort it takes to go from an idea to a working product, and I think all of the students can be proud of what they accomplished.”

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