Colorado State Engineering Students Claim Top Prize in National Robotics Competition

Colorado State University mechanical engineering students recently took top honors among U.S. teams at the RoboCup U.S. Open in Atlanta, beating out such universities as Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech.

The only team to beat Colorado State in the search-and-rescue robot competition was the International University of Bremen, a school with a highly experienced team and the host of this year’s RoboCup World Championship. Colorado State is heading to that competition in June.

"We are very proud of the team for their exceptional work," said Wade Troxell, a mechanical engineering professor who oversees the Colorado State RoboCup team. "They’ve demonstrated to me that, after they graduate, they’ll be successful engineers for the fortunate companies that employ their talent.  After their great performance at nationals, we are excited to represent Colorado State at the international event."

The 12-student senior design group has been working on the robot, Good Samaritan, since fall semester. Good Samaritan is an urban search-and-rescue robot designed to locate and identify humans who have been trapped in disaster areas. Its main purpose is to detect and identify victims and relay the information to someone outside the disaster area before the rescue effort can begin.   

Colorado State also received the "Best Mobility" award in Atlanta, with six times as many points as the next team. The robot was able to identify four times as many victims – the primary goal of the competition – as the next best team.

Made out of carbon fiber composite materials, the robot is sturdy and lightweight, weighing about 15 pounds. Good Samaritan stands at about 1.5 feet tall and 2 feet long. Its center of mass can be adjusted, which helps it move up and down stairs and maneuver through difficult terrain. It is set on a pair of rubber tracks driven by two electric motors.

Equipped with a thermal camera, Good Samaritan can detect body heat using infrared light. A microphone detects human voices and sensors that act as range finders to generate maps. Also attached is a camera that scans an area and develops a map.

To qualify for the national competition, the students submitted a detailed paper on the workings of the robot. The team also pre-qualified for the international competition in Bremen, Germany, due to their impressive proposal. They received another invitation based on their second-place overall finish in the national competition.

The team was surprised by their early invitation to the international event because most teams are from outside the United States, said Noah McKechnie, senior mechanical engineering major and member of the RoboCup team. Due to its exceptional performance at the national competition, the team is expected by competition organizers to perform well in Germany.

"Our team was fueled by coffee and burritos," McKechnie said of the many hours spent assembling the robot. "We needed energy when we were working on the robot at 2 a.m."

The students used concurrent engineering practices common in high-tech companies, as well as industry-standard processes and tools. They began by establishing design criteria and constraints before designing the robot on a computer program called Pro/Engineer.

They used finite element analysis – a way to determine what kinds of forces and interferences are expected to occur – to test the strength of the robot. The students started their Good Samaritan design last August and built the robot near the end of fall semester.  

Students estimate they spent about 40 hours a week per person to finish the robot. They started with a budget of $1,250 from the College of Engineering. Since then, the group has raised nearly $10,000 in private funds.