And so it was Saturday, March 9, that NIU Robotics traveled to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for 26th annual Jerry Sanders Creative Design Competition.
The rules are simple; teams must design, create, and race their robots during a series of bracket play.
The robots must capture territories by picking up their team’s cones and placing them on scoring rods placed throughout the arena. To earn points, teams must form a continuous line of claimed territories starting from their home base. During each competition, four teams race each other for 7.5 minutes.
Most veteran teams, understanding how difficult it is to create a flying robot, focus on building speed into their structures, hoping to race through the arena and grab cones as quickly as they can. NIU Robotics aimed higher and created the first ever successfully flying robot in the history of the Jerry Sanders competition.
Needless to say, teams won’t soon forget this young, vibrant club from the cornfields of DeKalb.
Over the past 26 years, teams have tried and failed to successfully navigate the course while flying. There have been so many failures, in fact, that the course officials stopped securing the safety nets over the arena.
Treasure Pettee Guerrero laughs as she talks about first arriving at the competition.
“When we arrived, I am not going to lie, I was nervous. The place was huge, there were 26 seasoned teams, and the judges told us they haven’t bothered to use the net in years, because no robots could successfully fly for more than a few seconds at a time. Here we were, our first year, and we were banking on ours flying.”
When it was finally time for NIU compete, the arena stood silent as all 26 teams waited to see if this brand new club could pull off the impossible. “Our adrenaline was pumping when we finally saw the robot lift and raise up over our heads. We couldn’t believe it! All our competitors were screaming and clapping. It was such a great feeling to watch an object that we built with our hands, come to life,” Guerrero says.
After the first few rounds of completion, QUIN – as the robot is named – suffered some damage. But the team worked through the night to repair broken propellers and other small issues, thanks to last minute donations from other teams and some local corporate support. “We did learn that we’ll need to make adjustments to QUIN in order to more effectively pick up the cones,” Guerrero says. “That is probably the best thing we learned in this first competition.”
In the end, the team was able to grab cones, but did not place in the overall competition. However, thanks to their flying QUIN, the team earned Most Innovative and will go down in history as the first to ever fly a robot during competition. “We honestly cannot wait until next year!”
The team’s success does not come as a surprise to Omar Ghrayeb, associate dean of the College of engineering and Engineering Technology. Ghrayeb has supported the team since their inception last August.
“I knew right away that this unique mixture of students would be successful, because they are innovative, engaged, and willing to work hard. This is exactly how we hoped the robotics team would showcase their talent to the State of Illinois. We couldn’t be prouder.”
NIU Robotics was founded by junior electrical engineering major Ryan Riddel, but is open to all majors throughout NIU. More information on NIU Robotics, including a listing of sponsors, is available online.