A newcomer shows up for the meeting on Wednesday night not knowing what to expect. Other students gather in the Hammond building and begin to move the stools aside. Someone flips a switch, and a box-shaped object in the center of the floor begins to move around the room, avoiding all the feet, desks and other objects in the way. No, it's not one of those new vacuum cleaners picking up dust; this is a meeting of the Penn State Robotics Club, whose members work together to build an assortment of different robots, for fun and for competitions.
Penn State University Park is not the only Penn State campus that has a robotics club; Penn State Abington also has one, along with three courses that create robots for competition. Due to the large number of students interested in robotics at Abington, many of the competitions throughout the year take place there.
Recently, four members of the University Park club created a robot named Harold that picked up small basketballs and took them to a 12-inch tall hoop to score -- all without human intervention. This robot, along with one other robot from Penn State University Park, was entered into the Robo-Hoops competition at Penn State Abington on Dec. 9. There were a total of 20 robots entered in the competition. Harold won first place in the solo competition. "Due to innovative thought, their robot won based on its unique approach and well implemented design," said Anthony Cascone, club president.
Matt McLure, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and a member of the winning team, said that taking his team's robot to competition "tops any experience I've had in the club so far. It's pretty awesome watching something you and a couple friends built from scratch go play a game of basketball. It's even better watching it win."
Another project the club is working on now is an autonomous robot that will drive itself around campus, all while avoiding benches, students, buildings and any other things that could be in its way. This robot will compete once again at Penn State Abington, and it will travel on an outdoor path, without any human interaction. The next competition will be held on March 31.
Robotics Club teams
The Robotics Club has many different ways to get involved. There are mechanical teams, where team members design and actually construct the robots and perform any needed maintenance. Additionally, there are programming teams, which code the individual robots using computer programs. Once the robot is programmed correctly, it will do the specific task it was made to do, using different sensors and other parts that are built into it. However, students don't have to focus on just one part. "You have plenty of freedom in deciding what you want to build. Also, since you work in small groups, you experience the mechanical, electrical and programming aspects of engineering," said McLure.
Anyone can join the organization; it is not limited to engineering majors. A wide variety of majors are represented in the club, from chemical engineering to general science. Members range from first-year to graduate students, and all classes in between.
The Penn State Robotics Club can be work sometimes, but according to Cascone, it's a lot more than that. "Most importantly it is fun. For anyone that has taken apart a VCR or a toy car just to see how it works, for anyone that played with Legos or K'NEX, or for anyone else just interested in building, the Robotics Club is for them."
The Penn State University Park Robotics Club meets from 8 to 9:30 p.m. every Wednesday in 312 Hammond Building. For more information about the club, visit http://www.psurobotics.org online.