In a conference center in Hartford, Conn., a small circular robot began a two-minute journey through a maze, carrying with it the hopes and expectations of a small but enthusiastic team of students. The robot, hastily constructed by the Carleton robotics team to replace a malfunctioning counterpart, was on its third and final attempt to locate and extinguish a candle placed in one of the maze’s rooms. It hummed along slowly, scanning each room with its ultraviolet sensor before finding its target. With a quick burst from its fan, it snuffed out the flame.
This marked a triumph for the Carleton robotics team at the Trinity College Firefighting Contest last month. The small group from Carleton participated alongside teams from China, Israel and Singapore, as well as with colleges from across the United States. Carleton’s robot was among the 10 in their division to successfully snuff the candle.
The competition, however, was far from cutthroat. “Everyone was interested in everyone else’s work,” said junior Will Camisa (Los Altos, Calif.). “People were more than willing to talk with you about their robots.”
Camisa and junior George Kachergis (Pittsboro, N.C.) founded the Carleton Robotics Club their freshman year. The club, whose student members now range from physicists to computer programmers, spent much of winter term preparing for the competition. After technical problems sidelined their first robot, the replacement was “cobbled together in three or four days,” says Kachergis.
By next year’s competition they expect to have the original—named “Son of Warr” after Carleton instrument maker Warren Ringlien—back in commission. Son of Warr is faster and uses water to put out the candle, two qualities that improve its score. Says Kachergis, “We think we can win.”
However, the club’s ambitions stretch further than snuffing candles. They have several other projects in the works, including creating a five-legged robot and having an intra-club competition. Perhaps their most challenging goal is to create a 30-inch “research robot” that will include voice recognition, a web cam and many other features, says Kachergis. If all goes well, that research robot, like the club that hopes to create it, will make its mark at Carleton.
To see a video of the Carleton robotics team’s successful run at the Trinity College Firefighting Contest, go to http://orgs.carleton.edu/robotics/.