The Texas A&M ASABE Robotics Team is a small group of bright individuals dedicated to using their classroom-learned skills, to build on previous experience to design robots fit for competition. As in the years before, the team will be entering the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Robotics Student Design Competition that takes place this year on July 17-20th in Orlando, Florida. The competition uses a consistent theme throughout the years by reflecting the geographical area of the competition.
Previous challenges have included themes such as moving hay bales in Kansas, tapping maple trees for maple syrup in Canada, and using images of soy beans in Louisiana. This year’s theme emphasizes Florida’s citrus production where teams must design two robots that simulate the transfer of fruits from the harvester to the processing plant. The first robot will be used to haul and transfer the oranges, whereas the second robot will accept the oranges from the first and move them to the final destination that serves as the processing plant. To simulate the harvesting and processing techniques, robots must navigate a course layout similar to what one would expect of a citrus grove, where different colored ping pong balls represent the ripe and unripe fruit. The top three placed teams will receive a certificate and a cash prize.
This year’s competition varies in that it will be the first time that a committee has been established to judge the competition instead of selected individuals. With this system in place, the process is expected to be smoother and more efficient than previous years. Judges will assess the robots’ navigation, communication between robots, how correctly the task is completed, if the task is completed in the allotted time with extra points given for speed of completion, and if the size limit is met. Scores will also reflect the presented design report, the programming, and the design itself.
Students learn valuable skills such as ownership, dedication, teamwork, critical thinking, precision, effective stress management, project management, development, and open and effective communication. All these skills combined make for very competitive applicants entering the future workforce as well those wanting to remain in academia. Additionally, by engaging with diverse competitors, students learn to broaden their horizons while accepting cultural differences and establishing a productive dialogue as well as respect for their competitors.
In 2014, the Texas A&M team won 2nd place and in 2015 obtained the privilege of choosing the theme for the 2015 competition in Louisiana. Led by advisor Dr. Alex Thomasson and senior team member Jose Batz, the team is keeping in mind past models and previous efficiently fitting components to create another sleek robot.
The team’s process generally begins with several weeks’ worth of design ideas, tweaking the design as members collaborate using each individual’s unique knowledge. Numerous prototypes are developed, as each previous model is assessed and improved. The team develops the prototypes doing most of the work by hand, as machine aid is limited. The central theme when building is to limit complexity in order to limit individual part failure. This year, the Texas A&M robots are using a different kind of controller featuring the UK developed single-board computer, Raspberry Pi (RPI), which are often used in many game consoles controllers. The use of RPI’s helps the team effectively navigate the robots through the course allowing for more precision. With a solid design and well implemented techniques, the Texas A&M ASABE Robotics Team is sure to impress judges and competitors alike in this year’s competition.