Robots Duke It Out in “Tank Wars”

Caltech News tagged with “staff + student_life + faculty_profile + grants_and_giving”

At Caltech’s annual engineering design competition on March 8, fleets of robot tanks built by undergraduate students climbed hills, captured bases, and shot each other with foam balls in an epic series of battles on Beckman Mall.[embedded content]The event was the final exam for Mechanical Engineering (ME) 72, the Engineering Design Laboratory course in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science.Each year, students in the two-term class are asked to design machines that meet particular criteria and then square off in a competition at the end of the second term. This year, the theme was “tank wars.” It featured six teams of four students, each fielding three tanks per team, facing off in head-to-head battles as they played a “king of the hill”- style game that involved capturing and controlling bases while shooting at one another with foam balls. The performance of the tanks counts toward part (but not all) of the grades that students receive in the class.At this year’s ME 72 competition, the 33rd annual event, students, staff, faculty, and students from local elementary schools cheered on the competitors. Aaron Ames, Bren Professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering and Control and Dynamical Systems, also made an appearance accompanied by Cassie, his lab’s bipedal robot, which walked around and met attendees.The competing students—currently juniors—had begun designing and planning their robots in September. However, Mike Mello (PhD ’12), who teaches ME 72, says that the real preparations began when the students were taking the prerequisite class, ME 14.”We decided to really beef up the preparation that the students got in ME 14,” says Mello, lecturer and research scientist in mechanical and civil engineering. “That meant a lot more electronics, mechanical reliability, how to design for mechanical stress, and we even threw in some aspects of teambuilding and teamwork.”While carrying a regular course load, the students worked …

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