The BYU Electrical and Computer Engineering department recently hosted its 6th annual Robot Soccer Tournament. The tournament is the culminating experience of an upper-level course taught in the department.
For the 2004 competition, students designed and built completely autonomous robots that play two-on-two soccer. The winning team was awarded prize money donated by Micron.
Faculty advisors Randy Beard and Jim Archibald have organized the tournament for the past six years. They feel strongly that the design and development of autonomous robots provides an ideal capstone design experience for several reasons. First, robotics requires true system-level design. Project teams must integrate a wireless communication system, computer vision, feedback control, real-time programming, artificial intelligence, and mechanical design. Second, the overall project is much too ambitious for a single student, so teamwork is essential. Teammates come from different majors (electrical, computer, and mechanical engineering) with different areas of emphasis within those majors, so teams are inherently multidisciplinary.
The third ideal feature of the competition is that the design space is large, and students are free to explore a wide variety of design alternatives. As students move from general product requirements to detailed specifications, it is natural to have regular design reviews and teach principles of effective system design, project management, and communication--valued skills in all graduating engineering. Although few employers will hire students to build robots, the project management and technical skills the students develop are widely applicable. Finally, robotics is fun, and students are naturally motivated to build the best systems they can, leading to an exciting final competition that attracts many spectators and builds enthusiasm for engineering.
The silicon-based strikers, each small enough to fit within a cylinder 180 mm in diameter
and 150 mm in height, use microprocessors and computer programs written by the students themselves to navigate the playing field.
When the games begin, students hit a button and the robots must successfully execute their programming without human interaction. A camera above the playing field captures images and sends them to a computer that detects color changes on the field as movement. The computer then transmits information to the robots to react to those changes. When the yellow ball moves across the green field, the computer sends signals to the robot's wheels to engage the ball and kick it toward the goal.
The mechanical quality of the robots and the level of play continue to improve each year and result in a very exciting tournament. Make sure you don't miss it next April!