Case Western Reserve University's Autonomous Lawnmower Team recently won the Sixth Annual ION Robotic Lawnmower Competition with their entry "CWRU Cutter."
"Amazing" was how Roger Quinn, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, described the team's win. They had to overcome a power supply failure three hours before their start to get the robotic cutter up and running. "They used a cell phone charger to kluge a power supply for the basic systems and ran with minimal sensors and a really good path plan," he explained. Then, after the mower was found to lose traction in the bumpy, hilly field, during the first run, they put screws in the rubber tires for traction and mowed the field with no further problems.
"The win was due to the hard work, talent and improvisational skills of our students," said Quinn. He, Frank Merat and Michael Branicky, also faculty members in the Case School of Engineering, serve as the team's advisers. The competition took place May 28-30 near Dayton, Ohio. Ten teams were registered for the event.
According to ION's (Institute of Navigation) Web site, "the purpose of this competition is to design and operate an autonomous unmanned lawnmower using the art and science of navigation to rapidly and accurately mow a field of grass."
Last year, the Case Western Reserve team placed third in the competition. Bradley Hughes, a senior electrical engineering student, said he and his teammates learned a lot during that time period. "In the past year, we've gained experience in the field of mobile robotics. Our ability to remedy situations and troubleshoot problems quickly is a product of day-after-day testing of our robots. We're planning on entering next year's competition. We've been working with MTD Products. They are our project sponsor. They are planning a production-grade autonomous lawnmower and hope to use a lot of our algorithms in their design."
Some members of the team—which includes both undergraduate and graduate students—have been working on the project since last year, while others joined spring semester 2009. "The success of our team wasn't a function of how long our team collectively worked on the robot, but how well our team members could communicate and bring to the table their special topic of robotics interest," Hughes explained.
In addition to Hughes, the team includes Jonathan Beno, Daniel Bennett, Alexander Schepelmann, Henry Snow and Jon Taylor. Jim Green of MTD served as a team liaison. Kathryn Daltorio, who participated in last year's event, could not attend this year because she went into labor before the competition. However, she still phoned in tips and advice to the team. She gave birth to a daughter shortly after the competition.
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