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June 20, 2002

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   Troy Anderson, (858) 822-3075 or


In what has become a quarterly tradition in Dr. Nate Delson's Mechanical & Aerospace design course, teams of engineering students recently participated in a head-to-head robot competition which also served as their final. To coincide with the Fall 2002 opening of the Jacobs School's new Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall, the theme of the contest was "Robots Move into EBU III."

Research space is one of the more valued items at the Jacobs School, and faculty are already vying for lab space within the new bioengineering facility. With this in mind, the contest was based on the fictional notion that some of the bioengineering faculty had decided to hire undergraduate engineering students to build robots to help them claim their lab space using DNA Strands. During the head-to-head, single elimination contest, participants attempted to pick-up and deposit as many pieces of PVC pipe, representing DNA, into the Plexiglas building model in a 60 second timeframe.

Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering students Zaid Karim, Andrew Marshall, Sean Wu, and John Yi, members of team "WHAT?," captured the top spot in the competition with their innovative, yet simple machine, appropriately titled "The Claw." Each member received a trophy for their outstanding effort.

Each team of three to five students constructed a customized, electrically controlled robotic machine based on a pre-determined list of kit parts. The starting size of each machine, prior to expanding into various configurations, was limited to 12"x12"x12".

The standard kit included 5 DC motors (two with gearboxes) and one solenoid. Electrical power was provided from a constant voltage power supply with 5VDC output, and controlled with two switch boxes. "As a rule, the energy used by the robots must come solely from potential energy derived from a change in altitude of the center of gravity of the machine; potential energy achieved by the deformation of the springs provided by the kit; and electrical energy derived through the umbilical during the 60 seconds when the power supply is energized," explained Delson.

Each switch box had two Double Pole Double Throw (DPDT) switches to operate a DC motor in either direction. Even though each kit contained five DC motors and one solenoid, there were only four user controlled switches. In order to operate more than four motors independently, students had to use contact switches on their machines.

"In the MAE3 robot design contest, students learn how creativity, physics, and teamwork all must be combined to develop working machines," said Delson. "The students enthusiastically embrace a real engineering challenge, and are very motivated to learn engineering skills such as Computer-Aided-Design, Rapid Prototyping, and machine analysis, since it helps them build a better robot."

For more information on the contest visit,

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