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ND hosts first intercollegiate mechatronic football game

Aubrey Butts | Friday, April 20, 2012

They’ve got jerseys and boast muscles of steel, but have never taken to the field before. Tonight, the Fighting Irish will battle the Polar Bears of Ohio Northern University in the first intercollegiate mechatronic football game in the Stepan Center at 7 p.m.

Michael Stanisic, associate professor of mechanical engineering, said though the team has held a Blue versus Gold game for the past three years, this will be the first match between two different universities.

He said the robots have specialized positions and are directed by student “coaches” through running and passing maneuvers in the game.

“There’s a center, a quarterback, a running back, linemen, receivers, kicker, punter and they all do the things you would expect such a player to do. If students want to win, they start getting into these things, and they have kickers who are very dependable,” Stanisic said. “They have quarterbacks and receivers with somewhat sophisticated control systems on them.”

The robotic linemen have removable tops with moving arms to block passes, and the quarterback has two spinning wheels with a feeder mechanism to replicate the action throwing a football. Stanisic said the machine can throw the ball 40 or 50 feet.

The robots can communicate with each other, but coordination between student controllers and robots on the field allows the team to complete a pass, Stanisic said.

“For this year, the students have developed a system of ultrasonic beacons that the players listen for, and when they hear the beacon they can compute how far they are from the beacons which tells them where they are on the field in relation to each other,” Stanisic said. “The quarterback then knows where the receiver is, and can line up with it and know exactly where to throw it.”

Senior Waylon Chen, a student coach, said he is looking forward to seeing the developments in action Friday.

“I am most excited about getting the trilateration system working in the actual game, and being able to complete the first-ever football pass by a robot,” Chen said.

Senior Rebecca Sees said her favorite part of the project was seeing the robot designs develop.

“Everything started out as just a bunch of ideas and sketches, and it’s cool to see how we got to this point from those first stages,” Sees said. “We’re all passionate about getting these robots to work and about trying new things to make them work better.”

Stanisic said the commitment stems from the many hours students devote outside of the classroom to the construction of their robots.

“The team puts in at least 12 to 15 hours a week, which is a tremendous amount of time,” he said. “Every time I go down to the lab, they are working.”

Friday’s game will also display the humor student members brought to this project, Stanisic said.

“[The students] like to give them names that are in some cases silly, in some cases make fun of their faculty that have been lecturing at them and in some cases make fun of themselves,” he said.

Stanisic said he hopes the game will pave the way for the formation of an intercollegiate mechatronic football league.

“We’ve played this game Blue vs. Gold for three years. Last year, we invited Ohio Northern to build three players and play on the Gold squad,” Stanisic said. “We have representatives coming from two or three other schools to see the game, and then the hope is that we can establish a league and get sponsorship by a professional society.”