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Ontario Tech students build robot in three days

(Engineering students at Ontario Tech University were given 72 hours to completely build a robot from scratch as part of the Robot in 3 Days Competition. (Photo by Chris Jones)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Engineering students at Ontario Tech University spent a weekend attempting to build a robot in the second annual Robot in 3 Days Competition (RI3D).

The students spent 72 hours from Saturday, Jan. 4 to Monday, Jan. 6 working on their robot.

Eric Whalls, a third year software engineering student and team captain, explained the goal of the competition is to build the robot in three days, which is significantly less time than given to high school students in similar competitions.

“We’re a team of about 50 engineering undergraduates in various years,” he explained. “This year we had a big [turn out of first year students], and [the point of] this competition is to accomplish different goals in a game.”

When first timers heard the timeline of the competition this year, Whalls said many of his teammate’s jaws dropped.

He explained their ultimate goal is for their robot to compete with those of the other schools, but also to come up with the best design they think is the most feasible in three days.

“There’s a lot going on… Our biggest challenge is how do we package everything in the type of robot that we want,” he explained.

He points out they must follow all of the rules, but they’re also trying to make the robot as impressive as possible.

“We’re also trying to inspire high school kids all around the world who are going to be doing this over six weeks,” he said. “Anything that we build, they’ll be able to find it online and they’ll be able to work with that and [hopefully] do something cool with it.”

Whalls explained this year they are building a robot which would be able to play a game autonomously without any human control at all.

“That’s the [ultimate] goal – that’s not the three day goal, which is to build a robot and watch it drive, and do things with a human controller,” he said.

He explained this year the team has a different approach.

“Last year we built a lot with different materials, and we found that didn’t work so well,” he explained. “So, we’ve changed    our manufacturing process and we’re using   a lot more water jetting and… different things.”

It’s been a lot easier to work with the new materials according to Whalls.

“We’re also doing a lot of 3D printing this year, which is crazy because we didn’t have a lot of it last year,” he said excitedly. “It’s things that would normally mean a 45 minute drive down to Pickering to pick up supplies – we’re just 3D printing them in house and leaving them over night.”

He noted most stores they would need to visit weren’t open until the Monday, the last day of the competition, so this gives them an edge.

Other schools participating included the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan.

Whalls explained there really isn’t a prize for winning, so much as the feeling of   accomplishment which comes along with successfully building a robot in three days.

According to Whalls, Waterloo students were hoping to build a fully autonomous robot as well, so he is hoping to be able to pick their brains at some point.

However, with innovation comes road blocks, and Whalls noted they hit one on the final day.

“We left out a tolerance for mounting a shaft that went in between our bearings which allowed our intake to flip,” he explained.

He added they reworked different parts to address that.

“The trouble is when you [go to make a different part] that’s a two hour window to actually make that part, and that’s per part,” he said.

The team was able to wrap up on the night of Monday, Jan. 6, completing their robot within the 72-hour timeframe.