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by Shana Shaw

Making a robot can be harder than it seems. Even though it is made from just a few parts; motors, sensors, a chassis, and circuit boards, the complexity lies in putting the hardware and software together in a seamless fashion.

The idea for the ENGR 1201: Introduction to Engineering robot project is to incorporate many disciplines within engineering into one semester-long project in which students work in teams to showcase communication skills, creativity, and the engineering design cycle. The main robot is an obstacle-avoidance car. Students may add to the car project with features such as lights, sound, sensors, Bluetooth, LCD screens, etc.

The students have responded well to the challenge of the robot car project. They seem to think it is difficult, but challenging in a good way. The look on the student’s faces when their robot cars move across the floor for the first time is priceless! The students have also enjoyed designing a 3D printed bracket that connects the ultrasonic distance sensor to the servo motor, enabling the robot to “look around” and sense the distance to any obstacles. Each student gets to take home his or her unique bracket design. It is rewarding to see how proud the students are in getting to see their own design fabricated on the 3D printer.

The technical reports and oral presentations will be due soon. The premise of the oral presentation is that students pretend that they are presenting their robot design at a technical engineering conference. The importance of good communication skills, both written in the form of a technical report and oral in the form of a presentation, complements the lecture material on engineering communication skills. The oral presentation is a good way to display the work that went into the design of the robot and also show the engineering design cycle in practice.

I am hopeful for all teams to produce a working robot. The ACC BatLab Makerspace has also been helpful in providing tutoring to students working on the robot project. It is nice to have another source for students to get help while working on the project.

While at SxSW this year, I was able to see a similar car robot project at the A&M House engineering display. Students designed a robot car with a Texas Instruments circuit board, independent four-wheel suspension, camera, and incorporated a virtual reality (VR) headset into the design. The students designed and 3D printed most of the parts on the car. The use of the camera mounted on the front of the car enabled the participants to see from the vantage point of the car driver while using the VR headset. An obstacle course was set up in which two cars raced each other around the track and the fastest time was given a prize. This design project gives me ideas for future semesters!

The anticipation is drawing near as we finish the robot project this semester. The course redesign to accompany the robot project was a large undertaking, but one that will enable a better experience for the students in the Introduction to Engineering class. I am excited to roll the video and watch the robot cars in action in the coming weeks.