For students in the “Design of Mechatronic Systems” class in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, “the finals” are more than just an exam; they are a tournament in which the winners hoist a trophy high above their heads in victory.
Throughout the school year, members of the class, led by Jonathan Fiene, director of laboratory programs for the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, design pint-sized robotic hockey teams that face off in an annual competition known as The Robockey Cup. Each team produces three robots that skate on wheels, shoot with pistons, and see the puck, the goals, and each other using a variety of sensors.
This year’s contest, held on Thursday, Dec. 12, was the largest ever, pitting the class’s 93 students against one another in a 27-team double elimination tournament. More impressive is the speed in which the nearly 100 robots were constructed.
“They started from scratch just over a month ago,” Fiene says. “I stood up in front of the auditorium and told them, ‘In four-and-a-half weeks, you’re going to be playing hockey,’ and here we are.”
Fiene says he chose the competition model because it generates enthusiasm and excitement among his students, and is a comprehensive test of their ability to synthesize the three core disciplines within mechatronics: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. These skills are responsible for the muscles, nervous system, and brains of the robots, all of which must work in tandem—and without any student input once they’re on the ice—to win.
Much like in human sports, the Robockey robots get faster and stronger every year. New motors and power sources have elevated the physical component game, so Fiene has fought to keep finesse in play by instituting point bonuses for shooting the puck, rather than pushing it into the goal.
“We may have to think about scaling back the power next year, but it’s a testament to how good our students’ designs are getting,” he says.