A robotics team from Clemson University took home the win at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers regional conference, IEEE SoutheastCon 2021, which was held virtually this year due to COVID-19.
This year’s competition theme was “Game On!”, where students were tasked with designing and programming a robot reminiscent of the classic Pac-Man video game. In this spin-off, a small robot was built and programmed to navigate to a designated area, secure the power pellet, and ‘eat’ (push) two stationary ghost blocks. The robot could also collect other blocks scattered throughout the board and return them to the starting location for additional points.
In the initial setup phases, the operator used a rotary encoder and switches to input the location of the two stationary ghosts and the two blocks that represented the power and poison pellets located in opposite corners of the board. The two ghosts were differentiated by a triangle or circle painted on them, and corresponded to a pellet with the matching shape. A judge then announced which of the two pellets was designated as the power pellet, and the operator relayed this information to the robot verbally. Without any further input from the operator, the robot would then navigate to the corner with the power pellet, use a computer vision system to determine the exact location of the power pellet within the space, and align itself with the pellet. Next, an arm with an adhesive plate would rotate over 180 degrees to adhere to the block and collect it. Once the power pellet was secured, the robot would autonomously realign itself on the board and proceed to push the ghost with the shape matching the power pellet out of position. Finally, the robot would navigate to the second ghost and make contact with it.
Clemson’s team dominated in this year’s competition, attaining first place in qualifying rounds and finishing the final four rounds with a cumulative score of 920 points. The second and third place winners scored 570 and 220 points respectively in the final four rounds.
The Clemson team “consistently earned the maximum number of points they attempted to collect for each round and represented Clemson and our department with honor,” said Dr. Bill Reid, faculty adviser and visiting associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “They did all of this during the difficult times of Covid-19,” said Reid. “I’d like to thank Clemson University and the Department for allowing our students to be able participate during these trying times and bring home a trophy.”
The competition rules and theme were announced before the fall 2020 semester and were refined throughout the school year. The Clemson students worked on their robot the entire academic year as part of a Creative Inquiry course.
The Clemson team was made up of undergraduate students from Computer Engineering: Connor Cahill, Connor Ennis, Nolan Howard, Blake Stevenson, and Andrew Wetzel; Electrical Engineering: Rocky Aho, Quinn Kinzie, Ben Liggett, and Andrew Pierce; Computer Science: Steven Young; and Mechanical Engineering: Paul Dubberly. The team was led by Electrical Engineering graduate student Jacob Thompson and faculty advisor Dr. Bill Reid.
The team also received an assist from Performing Arts faculty member Matthew Leckenbusch, who served as the team’s online competition proctor.