Racin’ Robot

Photo by Duane Zehr

By Matt Hawkins
March 10, 2015

A robot’s 50-some-second spin through a maze validated countless hours of programming practice for Bradley electrical engineering majors Alex Berian ’16, Jair Robinson ’15 and Brian Roskuszka ’17. The three produced the fastest robot at a competition during the February regional conference of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Bradley team’s path-following robot worked its way through a complex maze, and though it didn’t quite reach the end, it navigated more of the puzzle in less time than seven other competitors, including nationally-known technology schools Purdue and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

"It was exciting going into the competition knowing that we would be surrounded by some of the greatest electrical engineers in the region,” said Roskuszka, a Wheaton, Illinois, native. “It felt awesome to know our work paid off. We realized we could do a lot with what we learned.”

Students had three hours at the conference to program robots with limited knowledge of the competition course’s design. As a result, they relied on knowledge acquired in Bradley classes and problem-solving sessions as members of the University’s IEEE club.

“The work we do in class and with the club is so intense at times that we feel we can teach ourselves to solve anything,” Robinson, a Peoria native, said. “We knew there would be a lot of problems, but we knew how to learn from situations we faced.”

Teammates prepared for the competition ahead of time by brainstorming potential problems and solutions. Once they reached the three-hour crucible, complementary knowledge of coding, background research, algorithms and troubleshooting came together to create the winning program. The team also benefitted from working knowledge of the robot from class experiences.

“We didn’t know what the maze would be, so we were just trying to figure the best way for the robot to process all potential problems,” Robinson said. “We had to think outside the box to consider all the problems we could run into.”

Teammates credited faculty for pushing them to develop skills that enabled the trio to win the competition.

“A contest like this shows learning is up to the students,” Berian said. “At Bradley, all the faculty care about what we do, so they encourage us to learn on our own. Those of us who take the initiative to do that really can benefit from our professors’ knowledge.