You Better Take Cover—Robot Tank Squad Headed Down Under

Monday, February 26, 2018
Three students pose with the robotic device they programmed for the  Robomaster challenge.

RHIT's RoboMaster team will travel to Brisbane, Australia for the International Conference on Robotics and Automation's DJI RoboMaster AI Challenge.

Rose-Hulman competition teams have faced many challenges over the years, creating machines that race, roll, swim, fly and fight. This one is different, says Ryder Winck, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and advisor to the RoboMaster team.

The RoboMaster challenge calls for robots that operate without human input during competition. Their programming allows them to autonomously avoid hazards, locate foes and shoot them. “At core, software is the primary differentiator,” says Winck.

Winck and about half of the eight members of the RoboMaster team will travel to Brisbane, Australia in late May for the ICRA (International Conference on Robotics and Automation) DJI RoboMaster AI Challenge, sponsored by the Robotics and Automation Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE).

DJI, the China-based corporation behind RoboMaster, is best known for consumer quadcopters such as the Mavic and Phantom drones. The competition, started for high school students in 2015, gained worldwide attention and now includes college students. Rose-Hulman’s RoboMaster team—competing for the first time—is part of the RHIT Robotics Team.

Steven Hong, sophomore, is a driving force of the RoboMaster team. The eight members comprise Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science students. Sub-teams focus on systems such as imaging, decision-making, drivetrain and shooting (remember, this is combat.) Senior team members work on integrating the different systems.

Hong is sanguine about the benefits of working on RoboMaster amid a busy academic schedule. Most team members are taking the Senior Design course, which leaves them limited time to work on their automated gladiator. Hong notes that experience with the systems involved in RoboMaster competition can translate to later research and engineering work. “RoboMaster is an incubator for future engineers specialized in autonomous driving cars, or data-driven robots,” he says. Then there are the connections with professional organizations and conferences afforded by the program’s affiliation with IEEE and ICRA.

The Rose-Hulman RoboMaster team has ambitions beyond this year’s competition. According to Hong, the team “Has a lot of work ahead—for example, securing a sustainable budget, coming up with a better recruitment and training process for new members, acquiring sponsorship and building professional connections. It feels like being in a start-up company.”

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