Rookie Robot Team Wins a First and a Third

July 29, 2010

In their rookie debut, McMaster’s Robot Unicorn Attack team won one of three competitions and placed third in another at the fifth annual International Autonomous Robot Racing Challenge (IARRC) held July 24 in Windsor, Ontario.

The team of five saw their robot creation, appropriately named Dash, place first in the drag race competition and third in the circuit race, earning them $500 and $250 cash prizes respectively. The winnings are being used to help cover development costs of the robot.

The five team members participating were: Emily Bot (biomedical and electrical engineering), Danny Vacar (computer engineering and management), Dan Kish (M.Eng. electrical and computer engineering), Mike Irvine (M.A.Sc. electrical and computer engineering), and Bryan House (M.A.Sc. electrical and computer engineering).  They were assisted by five other students during the past year from software, mechatronics, engineering physics, and electrical and computer engineering.  Prof. Steve Hranilovic was the team’s faculty advisor.

“Given that this was our first year and we presented a unique implementation, I am more than pleased with the results,” said Bryan.

The annual challenge, which started in 2005, was hosted by the University of Windsor this year.  Eight university teams from across Canada competed.  The University of British Columbia Thunderbird Robotics Team Snowbots was the overall winner and the University of Waterloo Autonomous Racing Team took second.

“It was definitely a roller coaster day,” recalls Emily.  “[We went] from almost not qualifying to winning the drag race and finishing the circuit in third place. We're looking forward to improving the design and achieving better results at next year's competition.”

The competition consists of three events: drag race, circuit race and design competition. The drag race begins with time trials followed by the top two teams competing head to head for first and second place. The circuit race has the robots navigating a pylon delimited obstacle course. The design competition evaluates various aspects of the robot design including: safety, style, original content and serviceability.

“I was impressed with the dedication the team showed getting this ready for race day,” said Mike.

Building Dash involved completely overhauling a radio control car body with new suspension, drive train and body. The team also developed its own pylon detection and path-following algorithm and embedded it all on an FPGA which processed images from a camera mounted on the back spoiler.

“No other team there used an embedded system,” explains Danny.  “The team worked hard and it was great to see so many people from different levels and disciplines come together.”

Planning meetings for the competition began last October with development of the robot and implementation started in late February.

Robot Unicorn Attack team (top row, left): Emily Bot, Mike Irvine, Dan Kish; (bottom row, left) Danny Vacar and Bryan House; (centre) Dash the racing robot.
Dash, the award-winning racing robot from McMaster, shows off his awards for placing first in the drag race and third in the circuit race competitions.

“Considering the vehicle was older than most people on our team we did really well,” said Dan Kish.  “I can't wait to start developing next year's vehicle.”

The competition is designed to provide competitors with hands-on design experience that applies classroom theory to a real-world situation using industry-leading technologies.   Competitors gain experience in teamwork and an understanding of the importance of working efficiently and innovatively. Team members branch out beyond engineering with roles ranging from business and management, to written communications, graphic arts, and public relations.

“We want to thank all of our sponsors this year for their support and contribution,” adds Danny.

Sponsors of this year's team were: IEEE Student Branch McMaster University, L3 WESCAM, Advanced Circuits, and the McMaster Engineering Society.

Anyone interested in being part of next year's team should contact Mike Irvine,

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