In just eight hours, a group of University of Victoria electrical engineering students designed and built a robot from scratch that was strong enough to pick up a can of food nearly its weight.
Oak Bay’s Robert Lee, 21, was on the team with fellow fourth-year students Declan McIntosh (St. Andrew’s Regional school), Daniel Burleson (Mount Douglas secondary) and Luke Evans (Carson Graham). The team finished first in the senior design category of the annual Western Engineering Competition hosted at the University of Saskatoon from Jan. 22 to 25.
Lee said the group is excited for the win and the chance to advance to the Canadian finals, held in Winnipeg in March.
“I look forward to meeting the delegates from other regional competitions,” Lee said.
Each team in the senior design category starts from scratch. Each year’s robot design comes with a scenario. This year it was to build a robot that could retrieve items from a cavern on Mars. The distant setting introduced two of the group’s major challenges, keeping the robot as light as possible (as it will be cargo on the space flight) and as cheap as possible.
“With every one of these competitions it is easy to start with an idea you think will work but after testing it, you realize something isn’t working and you have to quickly transition,” Lee said.
And, true to form, the group had to “totally revamp” their design less than two hours into the eight-hour time limit.
“The key to success in these competitions is not focusing your efforts on one design at the beginning, it’s to explore and find solutions,” he said. “Your best design isn’t obvious in the beginning.”
In the end, their submission was the lightest weight robot at 282 grams and the second most cost-effective robot (made from parts estimated at $2,622) of the 12 competition groups. Plus it was able to retrieve the unknown objects, which turned out to be rather dense, as they were cans of beans and corn.
“We had a 100 per cent success rate in getting the cans out and were able to identify their contents with a 100 per cent success rate,” said Lee, a 2016 Oak Bay High grad.
It was Lee’s third trip to the Western Engineering Competition and his first time placing in the top three.
“This one was a dive into real-time systems, control logic, sensor design – from that experience it really helped us get familiar with all the different things we have to consider when we’re building these things,” he said.
UVic was well represented at the competition with two more teams finishing first and second in the programming category. The first place programming team featured Cobey Hollier, Jayden Chan, Ahnaf Ahmed and Kahvi Patel. The second-place programming team is made up of Derek Lowlind, Malcolm Seyd, Ryley Woodland and Pranay Rai.