So you think your robot can dance?

Jennifer Yang, Ryan Jordan, Simone Moulton and Dagan Knight

The College of Engineering Honors & Goss Scholars engineering design course sequence of ENGR 16100 and 16200 is a transformative experience. Students are split up in teams of four at the beginning of each semester, based on individual skills and experiences in topics such as computer aided design (CAD), computer programming, robotics, physics, and communication. Working collaboratively, teams apply theoretical and conceptual materials they learn in class to complete three major projects through the course of each semester. Teams work through design challenges and relatively straightforward projects to begin the team development process.   

While collaborating on these initial challenges, Ryan Jordan, Simone Moulton, Dagan Knight and Jennifer Yang, who named their team the “No-Breakfast Club” due to the early 7:30 a.m. start to their class, learned about teamwork simultaneously with theoretical and technical content in engineering design, and the team members found that they thoroughly enjoyed working together. They shared that they all felt that every team member contributed, and they grew closer as the semester progressed and developed a deepening friendship and partnership that they each value. While most groups find the experience of working with a team enjoyable, and many lasting friendships begin in ENGR 16100 and 16200, the No-Breakfast Club agreed early on to meet in person rather than virtually to make their connection more meaningful.  

“Other groups would meet online and use a collaborative document for their projects, but we always met in person.” says Simone when asked about how their team dynamic unfolded.  

In the first semester, the largest project, which is assigned in the first month of classes, was to build and analyze the performance of a Mars rover system that navigates various obstacles and terrain. For the No-Breakfast Club, the project first seemed insurmountable. However, as their team developed, they realized that collectively they could complete each task using the talents they each brought to the group. Ryan, transitioning now into computer engineering, had previous coding experience in Python. Jennifer, who plans on transitioning into mechanical engineering, was in robotics club in high school and had extensive knowledge in code analysis. Simone, who is planning to pursue aeronautical and astronautical engineering, found interest in testing, and would test the various ideas and models. Dagan, who plans to pursue chemical engineering, was excited to explore design as he was the first to propose one of the most unique features of their project, using three wheels instead of four.   

The group did come upon some challenges. The rover was meant to follow a drawn line and groups were given a line finder in their lab kit. They found that this tool was not as precise as they hoped and did not follow the line in the most efficient and accurate way. They found a way to solve this problem by using a color sensor instead that also came in the kit. They developed a different idea that had the sensor scan the ground horizontally to find the line. This improvement was done the night before they had an assessment of their projects due to finding out that their original plan was not working properly. Other challenges included unequal weight distribution which resulted in the rover regularly doing wheelies and when attempting to make the rover turn, the motion was jerky and uncontrolled, which led to the tricycle drive method of three wheels.   

By the end of the semester, their rover could do all the functions necessary in the outlined project guide they received back in September. The rover could follow the designated path using the color sensor accurately, it could maneuver obstacles and terrain well due to the tricycle drive method, and the group coded something extra to make the project really special. They coded a “dance mode” after the conclusion of their project to celebrate a successful project demo. The heartbreaking part of their success is that all groups are required to take apart their robots at the end of the semester because the parts are reused. The group agreed that this was the hardest part as they spent so much time with their rover it was hard to see it go. Not only the rover, but the group itself found the end of the semester bitter-sweet as they became so close. Luckily, even though they are in new groups for their ENGR 162 projects and working well within those teams, they still talk and hang out with each other as they have become great friends.