Robots Take Over Kohrman Hall
The Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE ) department held its annual Summer Mobile Robotics Institute in one of the last official engineering activities on the main WMU campus in Kohrman hall. Twenty-five high school juniors and seniors from across the state of Michigan learned electronics, designed and built twelve mobile robots and burned fingers using their soldering irons. The activity, which was held during July 6 to 12, was sponsored by the Michigan Department of Education for high school students who have demonstrated promise in science and technology.
The Institute is a true team effort that is run by the ECE faculty and staff. It is directed by Frank Severance, who along with Janet Liebendorfer, serve as administrators and organize all the non-technical activities. (Yes, Frank sleeps in the dorms along with counselors and participants too!) Professors Frank Severance, Damon Miller, Brad Bazuin and Debbie Dawson serve as the faculty. Also, a number of engineering students serve as councilors and lab assistants throughout the week. This year they were Shahana Aizaz (EE), Matt Baily (ME), Dana Cochrane (IE), Dan Hess (EE), Julie Dare Houck (CPE) and Chris McDermott (ME).
The basic format used for this project is along the lines of a “Bucket o’ Parts” competition, where students are given rough schematics, access to tools and a large stockpile of parts (anything from motors to mechanical items to electrical components) and told to “be creative!” Formal instruction is minimal and on an “as needed” basis with most of the learning being hands-on in the lab where the cadre of WMU faculty and student counselors.
The Mobot itself is actually a light-following vehicle which can be made to chase after a flashlight. So, the idea is for participants to design the vehicle, invent a drive and steering mechanism and construct electronic power and control systems. This makes the ultimate goal, a Mobot competition on the fifth day, possible. The competition includes are series of events such as sprints, figure eights and obstacle course. Participants quickly learn that the best Mobot isn’t necessarily one that goes fastest, but one that is most controllable and reliable.
At the same time the institute isn’t all technical finesse. In the evening students had a number of organized activities such as bowling, Putt-Putt golfing, Crazy Olympics and a Kalamazoo Kings baseball game as well as free time to unwind. By the time of the formal awards banquet on Friday evening everybody had discovered a number of new friendships and walked miles of the hilly WMU campus. On Saturday, the staff breathed a sigh of relief as all 25 sets of parents came for a final open-house and personal conversations with the faculty and staff. It was a great summer!