Purdue Robotics at the Final Four

One thing is certain about this year's Final Four in Minneapolis: Purdue *will* be there in robot form.


It's all part of Bot Shot, a robotics competition sponsored by Land O'Lakes (headquartered in Minnesota, where the Final Four basketball tournament is taking place).  On April 7, four universities will compete with their robots in a basketball skills contest with two parts: sinking the most baskets from five spots on the court, followed by an old-fashioned game of H-O-R-S-E.  Purdue has earned a spot in the Final Four, along with Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota State. The winning team gains a $10,000 cash prize, and also gets to face NBA Hall-of-Famer David Robinson in an epic human vs. robot challenge.

"Tossing a basketball into a hoop sounds simple," said Michael Linnes, the team's faculty advisor.  "But the systems we had to create are incredibly complex."

"There were a million things we could do," said Zoey Osterloh, sophomore in Mechanical Engineering.  "But we had to decide which method was most accurate, and importantly, most consistent."

There are several steps which the robot needs to complete within 60 seconds.  It is first driven up to a rack of basketballs where its feeder arm in the rear of the machine intakes the ball from the rack.  The ball then rolls down a ramp, where it is fed to a lift mechanism.  After the robot is “loaded”, it is aimed using on-board cameras and LIDAR to autonomously determine the correct angle and speed that it needs to make a basket.  When the proper shooting speed and angle are reached, a feeder arm raises the ball up toward the shooting wheels, centering it perfectly.  The shooting wheels, spinning fast and covered in a high-friction material, propel the basketball towards the hoop.  Purdue's team has integrated all of these steps into a fine-tuned robot which they are calling the BoilerBot Special. 

"Our team needed students from many different disciplines," said Linnes.  "Students from First Year Engineering and Mechanical Engineering helped to build the physical systems with input from the rest of the team.  They also worked with students from Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to design the control systems for the drive train, onboard sensors, and the shooting motors."   The team also benefited from the expertise of Steve Florence, Purdue ME's Technical Services Manager, who has a workshop for West Lafayette's FIRST Robotics teams. “We started a month behind all of the other teams," said Linnes, "but we were able to catch up and surpass them thanks our team's hard work and the strong support of Mr. Florence." 

The BoilerBot Special has a greater than 90% free throw percentage, and can make three-pointers with an accuracy that surpasses even the best NBA player.  It can even make crazy trick shots, such as shooting from behind the backboard.  While the team hasn’t figured out how to pass the ball yet, and their rolling layup needs some improvement, they are optimistic at their chances for the $10,000 prize.   "I'm really passionate about robotics," said Osterloh.  "It's a really interesting competition, and the fact these robots can play a sport that humans can play, I think that's really cool."


Writer: Jared Pike, jaredpike@purdue.edu, 765-496-0374

Source: Michael Linnes, mlinnes@purdue.edu