Thirteen autonomous robots will go head-to-head Saturday as their student designers vie for a $1,000 cash first prize at the 22st annual Undergraduate Design Competition at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University.

Students (top) prepare for last year’s competition, captured on video (above).

Free and open to the public, the colorful event attracts hundreds of spectators every year who enjoy the competition, student ingenuity and technology, as well as food and music.

This year’s event, “Predator/Prey,” will start at noon at the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, 2133 Sheridan Road.

Two robots at a time will compete in a large rectangular arena. Each one is assigned a color and tries to capture small, autonomous robots to score points. Every small robot captured earns a team one point. Depositing a small robot in a goal area earns three points.

Teams of Northwestern undergraduates from a variety of engineering fields have spent six months designing, building and programming their robots to operate autonomously. Teams often have members from a number of different departments, and students of all years work together, learning from one another.

Robots are made up of various parts, including microprocessors, actuators, motors, gears and electronic sensors. Remote control is not permitted, though teams may reprogram robots as often as desired.

The event is expected to conclude around 3 p.m. with an awards ceremony.

Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three teams. One team also will be honored with the design competition’s annual Myke Minbiole Elegant Engineering Award. McCormick alumnus Minbiole, who had been working as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, was killed in a hit-and-run collision in April 2007. Engineers from Northrop Grumman who worked with him will choose this year’s award winner.         

More information on the 2013 Design Competition is available online.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Robotics and other science at a Middle School

    PBS NewsHour had a story [see below] about a Maine Middle School that had a robtics building and competition as first part of a 'practical' [as in hands on] education in science. Ultimate goal was to develop a useful energy saving [e.g. windmill] or other type of application.

    Several female students were scared of failing— 'I know nothing about electricity', 'I've never used a drill', etc.

    Before the end—even on the first project—they were not only 'in to it' but seemed to be having the time of their lives.

    Very impressive.  I wondered how well this could translate to other school—-cost and teachers.  At least for the teachers, it appears they were existing staff.


    The following night the NewsHour had a program on hands on science at San Francisco's Exploratorium Boasts Fun, Interactive Science.

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