By Greg Jordan Bluefield Daily Telegraph 5 June 2008
BLUEFIELD, WV — Driving through a figure-eight course laced with a few obstacles isn’t a big challenge for a human, but was Mount Everest to the Bluefield robot that beat it.
After three days of competition and little sleep, Bluefield State College’s Robotics Team watched robot Anassa IV negotiate a demanding course at high speed and win the Autonomous Challenge of the international Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition.
For 16 years the U.S. Army and other organizations have been sponsoring the IGVC to spur the development of vehicles that can drive themselves, said Professor Bob Riggins of Bluefield State.
At this year’s contest at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., Bluefield State’s Anassa (Greek for queen) IV faced robots built by teams from schools ranging from the University of Michigan to Hosei University in Japan, Riggins said Thursday.
“Japan’s good at robotics as you can imagine,” he said. “We’ve been involved in several types of competitions. This is the big one.”
While not quite as sophisticated as the mechanical beings in movies such as “Star Wars” or “I, Robot,” Bluefield State’s Anassa IV is still an impressive machine. Weighing about 300 pounds and standing 6-feet-tall with its mast, the robot has a number of sensors.
“It has several different cameras. One of them is a camcorder you’d buy at Wal-Mart,” Riggins said. “It also has a laser scanner in front and back that sees objects in its way. The third instrument is a GPS or global positioning system, and then there’s a digital compass that gives heading or direction in respect to north. The brain of the whole robot is just like the computer you’d have at home or anywhere at work; it’s very fast because speed is important.”
Anassa IV does have a remote control option, but it has autonomous control, too, meaning the onboard computer is doing the driving.
This driving had to be done on a 600 foot course painted on a grassy field. Teams never know what sort of terrain or obstacles their robots will face until the competition begins, Riggins said.
“It could be on asphalt or sand, but this time it was on a grassy field with lines painted 10 feet apart,” he recalled. “It wound around in a figure eight and covered about an acre. There were barrels and bridges, actually two bridges this time, that were very hard to get over. It’s a pretty challenging thing to do outside in the bright sun. It [robot] has to have the energy to get through thick even if it gets wet when it rains. It has to be an outside robot.”
Bluefield State’s queen robot was the only one to complete the entire course, Riggins said.
“Everybody thought nobody would make it over the course because it was so tough. And it was at high speed, too, about 5 mph. That’s fast when you’re thinking about a robot that’s autonomous,” he said. For that successful run, the team won $3,000 that will be applied towards a new robot, Archon or “prince” in Greek, that’s now being designed.
Twenty-five BSC students worked on the robot at various times, but the team consisted of James Cardwell, Justin Milam, Justin Stiltner, Bryan Lemon, Louis McAllister, Toni Villanueva, Brad Fields and John Browning. Riggins said his son, Bob Riggins, from Virginia Tech also helped. Dean of Engineering Frank Hart helped “tremendously” along with the college’s Center for Applied Research Technology.
Finding the funding to compete has been challenging, but BSC and local businesses have been supportive, Riggins said. Pemco, Charlatte America, Connweld Industries, Wal-Mart, Miller Associates, AutoZone in Bluefield, Citizens, Advance Auto Parts, Fastenol and Med-Response have helped with the project.
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