It’s hard enough designing a robot that can think, move and feel. Those functions require a laser war of sensors and encoders that I can only begin to understand having not studied it in college. But then, you have to make the robot look good.
In the 9th annual ASABE Robotics Student Design Competition, which took place in July at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers International Conference, students were asked to design a robot that could pick up a plant sample, drop it in a box and then record where it has been in a timeframe of only eight minutes. Not an easy task, especially when you have University of Illinois’ Dr. Tony Grift heading up the challenge, five other agricultural engineers judging it and 11 teams from the most prestigious universities competing for the title.
But in addition to these functions, a portion of the challenge, up to 50 pts., went to determining the elegance or style of the robot in executing these tasks. That meant the robot needed to be “sleek or otherwise aesthetically appealing,” as quoted in the rules.
This year I was asked to be one of the judges. And, as you might have guessed, it was my job to focus on the “style” portion of the competition since the actual mechanics were outside my realm of expertise. (The other judges helped with this too, but they also judged the mechanics.)
To do this I made up code names in my head for the robots to keep them straight. There was the black “Darth Vader” from McGill University, the Clemson claw, the glassed-in greenhouse from Cal-Poly, the light lens from Texas A&M, the iPhone retriever from Zhejiang University, among others.
They all looked sleek and elegant, and, in the end, all of them garnered up high scores, making for some intense competition. The robot that scored the highest points overall once all segments were tallied was K-State’s robot “Robot A” (or, what I referred to as “Starship Enterprise”).