A team of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) seniors was named "Rookie of the Year" for the design and development of its robot, Prometheus, whose purpose is to safely drive around any environment while avoiding obstacles. The team was recognized at the 18th annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC), held this summer at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.
The prestigious, national event offers a "design experience that is at the very cutting-edge of engineering education," according to the competition's website. WPI's entry, Prometheus, an "intelligent autonomous ground vehicle," was designed and built as a senior capstone project during the 2009-10 academic year by nine WPI seniors, who all graduated in May, advised by several faculty members and with the support of sponsoring companies. Not only did Prometheus attract the interest of attendees of the June competition, but its design also received praise from the judges, who marveled that the students had put only one year of work into its development.
"The 'Rookie of the Year' award acknowledges the excellent work our undergraduate students have put into this project," said the team's lead advisor, Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Taskin Padir. "More than the award, our first-time participation in the IGVC is a great accomplishment for our students and also for WPI's robotics engineering program. We are excited to have been selected for the 'Rookie of the Year' award, based on our design presentation and on our participation in the JAUS (Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems) challenge."
Essentially a robotic car, Prometheus has a custom-welded frame made out of aluminum, two drive wheels in the back, and one steering wheel in the front. To maneuver in any environment while avoiding obstacles, the vehicle has an array of sensors (including differential GPS, a digital compass, video cameras, and a distance sensor) that constantly collect and process information about its environment. This information is then processed by the vehicle's computers, and used to determine where it can drive. The vehicle is powered by two car batteries and has a custom power distribution system that supplies power to the necessary components. It also has a wireless router so that it can send important position and status information to a laptop for testing.
This year's team was comprised of robotics engineering majors Justin Barrett, Christopher Gamache, and Adam Panzica; mechanical engineering majors Jack Wang and Robert Fitzpatrick; electrical and computer engineering majors Dan Sacco and Benjamin Roy; and computer science majors Viktoras Truchanovicius and Ricardo Madera; as well as Wayne Anderson Management Engineering. The team was led by Professor Padir, Computer Science Professor Mike Ciaraldi, Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Bill Michalson, WPI Robotics Resource Center Director Ken Stafford, and Mechanical Engineering Professor Stephen Nestinger. Sponsors included Genesis Strategies, Inc., National Instruments, NVIDIA, Optima Batteries, and Philip Blackman '66.
As of the 2010-11 academic year, there will be a new team of seniors working on Prometheus. Per the competition's rules, the new team will be required to make at least one significant change on the robot for it to be considered for next year's event.
"To me, the 'Rookie of the Year' award symbolizes the fact that WPI students who have been through the robotics program are capable of putting the things they have learned into practice in a real-world application," said Barrett. "Especially from a mechanical design standpoint, our 'rookie' vehicle was at least on par with the majority of the other vehicles at the competition. All of the work we put into developing the vehicle's frame and electronics this year has put next year's team in a great position to be seriously competitive at the 2011 IGVC."
Fitzpatrick agreed: "The Rookie-of-the-Year Award shows that, even as a first-year team, WPI's robotics engineering program is a force to be reckoned with. It shows that students can create a vehicle that has the ability to wow judges, other teams, and even younger robotics enthusiasts. At the competition, it seemed as though almost everyone had stopped at some point to say how impressive our entry was, despite our being first-year competitors."
In addition, Fitzpatrick noted that WPI's project-based curriculum taught him the importance of teamwork and collaboration – something, he said, that was a "crucial component to this project. Without that, we would have been only a group of nine individuals instead of Team Prometheus."