The winning Applied Sciences team (left-right clockwise): Simon Zhong, Grae Mackenzie, Gordon Ho, Julian Lo.

Engineering Science

SFU students' robot takes top spot in Western Engineering Competition

February 17, 2015

A team of Simon Fraser University engineering science students took first place at the 2015 Western Engineering Competition, senior design category. Pitted against 13 undergraduate student teams from schools across western Canada, the team had eight hours to design, build and test a competitive task-performing robot.

 “The challenge was to create a robot that moves forward and deposits pre-loaded wooden blocks onto a three-level shelf, then returns to the starting point,” says team member Julian Lo, a third-year engineering student.

The judges offered additional points to robots that delivered blocks on multiple levels simultaneously and completed additional runs.

No strangers to tough engineering challenges, the four students, who are all members of SFU’s world-ranked VEX Robotics club, created an innovative multi-leveled ramp system.

“Conventional four-bar lift and push systems could only deposit blocks on one or two levels at a time, but we wanted to go for three,” says Lo.

He explains: “Each level had a flat plate of metal connected to a winch, which when wound up, would lift the plate, creating an angle where the blocks would slide down into the shelf.”

Other teams used a linear slide to push the blocks from the robot to the shelf, says Lo, which limited the robots to depositing blocks on one level at a time.

 “We ended up depositing a total of 43 blocks over the two-minute testing period, while the runners-up scored around 10,” he says.

Additionally, the team had to ensure their robot travelled in a straight line – a difficult challenge, as motors tend to run slightly faster in one direction than another – and stopped moving when it reached the target.

Their solution? Two sensors on the robot’s front wheel axels to calculate distance to and from the destination. To correct any deviation, the team programmed the robot with a complex mathematical formula that compared the difference in speed and, based on this result, decreased or increased motor speed throughout the run.

As winners of the regional competition, The SFU engineering science team will progress to the Canadian Engineering Competition at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland, in March 2015.