Twelve Walking Machines Took Part in Decathalon at Colorado State

Six-legged critters ran the dash, negotiated a slalom course, found and retrieved a billiard ball and carried heavy loads while vying for the championship of the Walking Machine Decathlon 2000 at Colorado State University April 27-29.

The versatile robots, guided by computers and powered by electricity or compressed air, competed April 29 in Ammons Hall, 711 Oval Drive on the Colorado State campus.

Three groups of Colorado State undergraduates entered robots in addition to nine other teams from Canada, Mexico and the United States universities, with two of the local entries receiving special note. All three university entries placed in the middle of the field overall.

First held at Colorado State during the 1986-87 academic year, Colorado State entries have placed in one of the top three positions 11 times and have taken first prize in eight contests. Participation in the walking machine program is part of a mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering student’s senior design requirement.

"In an effort like this, students learned the real-world application of engineering design practices," said Fred W. Smith, professor of mechanical engineering and advisor to two of this year’s Colorado State teams, Dynamic Duo and New Platform. "They also learned about design criteria, constraints, drawings, fabrication and engineering analysis."

The effort is more than academic, Smith said.

"The technological driver behind the walking machine are things such as the unmanned exploration of Mars, handling materials in a hostile environment such as a nuclear plant and other tasks of that nature requiring a robot."

The university’s three entries this year–Dynamic Duo, Cyclops and New Platform–represented a first in number of entries for College of Engineering undergraduates.

  • The Dynamic Duo won Best Analytical Approach to Design and was second in Technical Presentation. Built by team leader David Bullen and Troy Byerly, Benjamin Kaanta and Jeff Rau, the Duo consisted of two 15-by-20 inch walking machines, each about a foot high, controlled by onboard computers. The pair communicated by radio and had a Kevlar thread strung between them on a pivoting mount.
  • With one machine in a starting (or finishing) block, the other determined where it was at all times by computing the angle of the thread leading back to its partner. The machines also moved alternately, calculating their whereabouts on the 9-meter-square contest area relative to each other, and thus completed the slalom.
  • The "one-eyed" Cyclops saw its surroundings and reacted accordingly. "It actually used a TV camera mounted on top that’s connected to an onboard computer running Windows NT," said team advisor Peter Young, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. "It’s completely autonomous, and when it looked, (it saw) like humans do."
  • An appropriate software package with image-processing algorithms allowed Cyclops to distinguish a billiard ball, for example, and head over to retrieve it. Cyclops was built by a team of electrical and computer engineering students led by Jason Gentry and including Tony Burink, Leonard Ciletti, Brad Connor, Derrick Jackson, Tengku Nordin, Brett Stanes and Mike Young.
  • New Platform jumped over obstacles, earning the award for Most Innovative Design. Leader Eric Johnson and teammates Matt Christison, Sean Reed and Jeff Lord were told to design something different and, Smith said, they did. Powered by compressed air, the radically different entry could surmount most obstacles but had difficulty with activities requiring finesse, even though team members operated it by remote control.

Most of the machines do not compete in all events; those guided by onboard chips, rather than a human-run control system, are judged higher in performance.

The Society of Automotive Engineers sponsored the 10-event annual contest. Entries were judged on how well the robot performed a task (for example, walking over a hill with a 20-degree incline), with more difficult tasks earning more points. Machines programmed internally that competed on their own scored higher than machines operated by remote control. The machines also were judged in four design categories: design quality; structural integrity; safety; and start-up and testing.

Students are responsible for the entire project, from fund raising and design to production, assembly and testing.

Sponsors included the Department of Mechanical Engineering, dean of the College of Engineering and provost of Colorado State; Andersen Consulting; CBW Automation; Hewlett Packard; LSI Logic; Maxtor; TRW; Woodward; and Kodak. In-kind support came from the High Plains Scuba Center, Copley Controls, Discount Tire Co. and Colorado State’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.