Electrical engineering students prepare robot for competition

December 2010 By

Ole Miss electrical engineering students have been assigned a challenging mission: to create the sensors and components needed for a "search-and-rescue" robot.

The students are creating the robot as part of their senior design class, taught by Elliott Hutchcraft, UM associate professor of electrical engineering.

Their robot will be entered in the IEEE Southeast Conference competition on March 17-20 in Nashville, Tenn., and they will compete against student representatives from around 50 other universities.

"The robot is supposed to be a 'search and rescue' robot," Hutchcraft said. "It is supposed to discover 'victims' in the rooms that it must navigate. The robot can sense victims using EMF (electromagnetic field) or LEDs (light-emitting diodes). When victims are located, the robot is supposed to display and speak the location of the victims on the course."

Hutchcraft said that the students have spent this semester getting the robot's sensors to work. When the students return from their winter break, their challenge will be to get all of the sensors to work together with the microcontroller.

Some students are working on proximity sensors that the robot will use to sense the walls of the course it will navigate. For testing, they have designed a victim for the robot to find: a PVC cap that contains a circuit with an electromagnetic field. Some students are working on speech sensors, and some are working on a line tracker that will read color difference. A flashing LED will mean the victim is conscious, a green LED will mean the victim is unconscious, and no LED will mean the victim is dead.

"It's a lot of programming, a lot of code," said student Nick Harris. "The challenge is actually getting [the robot] to work properly."

To help raise the funds needed to buy the parts for the robot, students Daniel Forman and Jeffrey Tannehill successfully wrote a proposal to Northrop Grumman. (Forman had worked as an intern for the company for a couple of summers.) Vicki Crockett of Northrop Grumman presented the class with a check for $1,440 in late October.