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Pictured, l-r: Competition vets Jackie Kory, Ashley Sherman, Cody Canning, and Peter Nachbaur show off their robots. Photo credit: Josh de Leeuw

Students Start their Engines for Cognitive Science Robot Competition

On Friday, May 7 at 12 Noon in the Villard Room, the Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Lab (IRRL) will hold its annual Robot Competition, this year featuring a robot road race! The course will have shortcuts, dead-ends, and checkpoints that are marked by colored signs; the 17 participating students must get their robots to navigate the course by using those markers.

Josh de Leeuw ’08, who won the competition twice as a cognitive science undergraduate and now works as assistant director of the lab, says the competition has changed quite a bit since he was a student: “The technology used in constructing small, mobile robots is becoming cheaper and more advanced. This year, for the first time, we are allowing teams to use wireless communication between a laptop and their robot to take advantage of the additional computing power.” Some of the robots will feature microcontrollers (robot brains) that are essentially small computers. This technology has allowed students to take advantage of more computationally intensive algorithms, such as motion tracking, for controlling their robot, but, as de Leeuw explains, the new technology comes at a price: as the robots become more complex, students must deal with increasingly difficult technical problems while staying on budget.

“I think that most really enjoy the freedom and hands-on approach that this course offers. Students are assigned to teams, given a budget, and the rest is up to them," notes de Leeuw, who adds that his competitive experiences have certainly helped him. “I acquired a lot of skills and knowledge from competing that have really stuck with me,” he concludes.

The IRRL was founded in the fall of 2004 with the assistance of an NSF Grant acquired by the members of the IRRL faculty as well as matching funds from Vassar College.

May 2010

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