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WVU senior design teams finishes third, sixth in international robotics competition

The Tank: from left: John Norman, Cassie Ueltschy and Meelis Kiisk

The Tank: from left: John Norman, Cassie Ueltschy and Meelis Kiisk

Two teams of students from West Virginia University were among the top six finishers in an international robotics competition held recently at Oklahoma State University.


Under the mentorship of Powsiri Klinkhachorn, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, the teams took their senior capstone design class projects to the Seventh Annual Mercury Remote Robot Challenge, held on April 16. The Tank, created by electrical engineering and computer science majors Meelis Kiisk from Paide, Estonia, and John Norman, from Finksburg, Maryland, and Cassie Ueltschy, an electrical engineering major from Pine Grove, finished third behind the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Paraíba in Brazil, and Oklahoma State University. It also took third place for the Judge’s Choice Award. DJ Roomba, created by Seth Theeke, a computer engineering major from Morgantown, Mason Greathouse, an electrical engineering and computer engineering major from Parkersburg, and Bryan Woodgate, a computer engineering and biometrics major from Rockville, Maryland, finished sixth.

Thirty teams from the U.S., Mexico, Columbia and Brazil were entered in the competition but only seven successfully completed the course.

The competition challenges teams to design and create a robot capable of completing a remote mission. The robot must be controlled via the Internet from at least 50 miles away.

The mission includes navigation of a dark tunnel, capturing a bean bag, climbing and descending 30 degree inclines, and delivering the bean bag to a target. The robot must also demonstrate speed sprinting toward the finish line. Robots also needed to pass a loss of signal test, recognizing and acting accordingly when commands from the operator are lost.

The teams from WVU took advantage of some advice from a member of last year’s third place team.

“Eric Loy, who was a member of last year's team, made some very good suggestions regarding design, which influenced the direction we went with our robot,” said Norman. “We implemented servo steering on all four wheels, which was extremely helpful in navigating the course. It allowed us to traverse through the tunnel very quickly and without contacting the tunnel at all. This design also allowed us to rotate our robot 360 degrees, which allowed us to place the gripper on the rear of the robot and design a highly accurate slingshot.”

Unfortunately, the team ran into signal problems after launching the slingshot.

“We encountered an issue the USB hub that we were using as a connection to our control tablet,” Norman said. “We should have spent more money on the USB hub but with limited time and resources we did not feel that it would be a weak point.” 

Theeke and his team also benefited from Loy’s guidance but went in a different design direction.

“Eric helped us with design ideas, keeping us motivated and helped us understand the software from the previous competition,” said Theeke, a computer engineering major from Morgantown. “However, our group had a very different robot than the one Eric’s team used. Instead of building a robot from scratch, we used an iRobot Create 2 as our robot’s platform, which came with its own challenges throughout the year-long design process.”

The team also faced issues maintaining a solid communication stream with its robot.

“We found that the signal between Oklahoma and West Virginia proved to be a hard one to maintain and also came with some lag,” Theeke added. “There’s a lot we could have done differently, that’s the beauty of the competition. The rules of the competition allow participants to be extremely creative with close to no restrictions.”

“I am very proud of our students’ accomplishments,” said Klinkhachorn. “The team members exchanged ideas, helped each other and worked very hard, all semester long to build better robots.  They were able to put what they have learned in theory into a practical, working robot. They represented our program and our University with pride. I’d also like to thank the Lane Department for its generous financial support of the teams.”



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