Apr 11, 2013 2:09 PM by Kirsten Bennett

Trinidad State robot conquers obstacles at the Sand Dunes

Alamosa, Colo - It didn't take long for the team from Trinidad State Junior College to pull ahead of the pack at the Robot Challenge last Saturday at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Sponsored by NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, nine colleges took on six increasingly difficult robot challenges. Obstacles included rocks, barriers, and holes all in the super fine sand that makes the Dunes so difficult to traverse, even for people. The robots had to navigate the course with no human help.

Eight colleges and one high school showed up with a total of 18 robots. All but four were out of the running in the first 20 seconds. They fell victim either to mechanical problems or just couldn't get going in the fine sand. While four robots turned out to be quite mobile, only the entry from Trinidad State Junior College successfully homed in on a wireless beacon and conquered the first course. The Crawling Autonomous Terrabot, or CAT, then moved on to challenges two through six, as comfortable as a feline in a giant litter box. Occasionally CAT would stop, but each time the Trinidad team, led by Thomas Staver and Jeff Manders, got it started again. The stubborn CAT conquered the first five challenges but eventually failed at a large hole on Course 6. Last year the Trinidad State entry got to Course 4 before a mechanical failure shut it down.

Other colleges represented at the 7th Annual Robot Challenge included Pueblo Community College, CSU-Fort Collins, CU-Boulder, Colorado Mesa University and School of Mines.

Staver, Manders and the rest of the team will present their design ideas, including problems and how they were solved at the Colorado Space Research Symposium on April 20 at the Community College of Aurora. Colorado companies that normally attend include Ball Aerospace and Lockheed Martin. "They're really looking to see if we employ the systematic testing that most engineers do. Instead of doing everything at once and then trying it out and not knowing what went wrong they want to see that we did one thing at a time," said Math Professor Cindy Clements. "This is a great way to show that, because they can show the first prototype and the second prototype and our testing without (circuit) boards and our testing with boards so we could single out the problems."

Each of the six student members of the team will receive a stipend of up to $1,000 for their work on the project.

Clements will start planning for the next Robot Challenge in the fall with another group of Trinidad State students.

CLICK HERE for a video of the robots during challenges.


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