Engineering Design Team continues winning ways
By David Staudacher
UIC’s Engineering Design Team (EDT) members are winners. The team’s hard work and skills paid off as students recently captured second and third place positions at two competitions.
In early June, the team earned third place in the Design Competition with its R.E.V.O. robot during the 25th Annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, where they competed against schools from around the world.
For the Design Competition, the team submitted a written report, gave an oral presentation and performed a vehicle demonstration to the IGVC design judge panel. UIC competed against more than 30 colleges from around the world during the competition and missed second place by two points.
The competition challenges students to a world-class design and systems engineering experience that is at the cutting edge of engineering education. It is multidisciplinary, theory-based, hands-on, team implemented, outcome assessed, and based on autonomous vehicle system product realization. For their efforts, the students receive professional recognition for achievement and cash awards.
For UIC, the third-place prize didn’t come easy. The team had to overcome some obstacles that weren’t part of the competition.
“Unfortunately, our GPS and compass unit suffered a catastrophic power system failure and we were unable to compete in the navigation competition. The team then changed our focus to the design presentations and testing the robots,” said Zachary Szczesniak, an electrical engineering student from La Grange Park. The third-place finish in design was delightfully unexpected because our main goal was to qualify for the navigation competition. It is always exciting to represent the team, the college and the university.”
The switch in plans was a challenge for the students, but their education at UIC prepared them for this type of dilemma.
“Just like an exam, there is always pressure to perform at your best. Being the electrical captain, I have the added pressure of the whole electrical system working,” Szczesniak said. The College of Engineering does an excellent job at preparing any ECE student. EDT has grown with me, reinforcing the theory I learn in the classroom, and in applications that go beyond the ECE laboratory.”
NASA Robotics Mining Competition
In May, the team won the second place Caterpillar Autonomy Award during the 2017 NASA Robotics Mining Competition at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The annual contest, hosted by NASA, gives students from across the nation the opportunity to design, build and operate robotic explorers in a bin loaded with simulated Martian soil called regolith. The Caterpillar Autonomy Award is awarded to the teams with the most autonomous points averaged from both mining attempts.
UIC competed against hundreds of students from 44 college teams from across the nation, including teams from Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The team also ran into problems before the competition, but the students’ education proved they are ready to make decisions and solve problems.
“There was some pressure and nerves throughout the competition, but having had a year with the robot already and having great advisers as well as fellow students to help me definitely eased the burden,” said Marcin Murzydlo, a computer engineering student from Bridgeview. “Most of the issues we faced were during the design phase and having to try and account for every possible issue that may come up. The whole team helped with any issues that arose during the week of the competition, even non-ECE majors.”
The competition is a mixed bag of emotions. The team members are tired, stressed and their minds race through hundreds of thoughts at once. They are reliving every practice, every malfunction and every laugh. However, their education and months of preparation kept their vision completely clear, which led to the victory.
“Hearing our name being called was extremely satisfying,” he said. “Being recognized for all of the hard work you have done is one of the best feelings in the world and it was great to share it with the group at EDT.”
The team is made up of dedicated students and alumni from electrical and computer engineering, computer science, and from mechanical and industrial engineering, who all bring a unique skill and perspective to the competition. Most importantly, it creates an atmosphere of unity and camaraderie that reaches across departments.
“The team worked great together. We followed NASA’s strict systems engineering method and we were able to get a working robot down to the Space Center,” Murzydlo said. “We were able to form a strong bond at EDT, whether it was working on the robot, writing the systems engineering paper, or just discussing classes.”
UIC’s Engineering Design Team is a student organization with a primary focus on the implementation of skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom into mobile robotics platforms. The team of next-generation scientists, technicians and engineers compete in several competitions annually and help younger students develop their engineering skills.
This past year, students and alumni taught more than 30 new members engineering tools during teaching sessions and competitions. Outside of UIC, the team supports high school and elementary school students throughout the region with demonstrations, judging and technical assistance.