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Robotics Society Navigates Uncharted Courses

October 8, 2012

Sometimes, all you need is a little push, even if it comes from a mechanical arm.

That was the case with the UC Merced Robotics Society, which began in 2008 but languished after its founders graduated.

This past year, though, the club’s newer members got a jump start from dedicated leadership and the programming and creativity of one of their colleagues.

In his spare time, Nathaniel Lewis, a computer science and engineering student from Dublin, designed and programmed an autonomously-functioning robot that competed at the national RoboGames competition in April in San Jose.   

Club members like Cesar Gamez, John Rice, club President Emery Nolasco, Christopher Bush and Sean Rider helped build the “bot,” and the experience of working together toward a common goal reinvigorated the club.

Though they only had a few weeks to finish the project and no lab space, they took the robot to Gamez’s garage, blasted some music and powered through, Nolasco said.

Lewis’s robot was designed around a radio-controlled truck. Programming the computer guidance system took enough time that the robot wasn’t finished until a day before the competition.

 “We wanted to do something that no class here will ever let you do,” Lewis said. “The project let us see more of the process of designing a robot. It’s also a great way to bring people with hobbies in mechanics, electronics and computer science together.”

The team had mixed results at the competition. The robot, dubbed Kybernetes (Greek for navigator), completed part of the course but did not cross the finish line. Still, the group placed seventh out of 17 in the event — a navigational challenge dubbed RoboMagellan.

RoboMagellan is one of the most demanding events at the annual RoboGames. The event emphasizes autonomous travel through a landscape — the kind of abilities engineers need for Mars rovers like Curiosity, which landed this summer, and other robot explorers.