April 17, 2015 – It’s a battle of planning, skill and execution versus the unyielding elements of Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Colorado Space Grant Consortium’s Robotics Challenge is designed to challenge the skill of students from across the state in a series of obstacle courses in very fine sand.
On April 4, 2015 the Trinidad State team, for the second straight year, was named top robot in 1.5 kilogram and over category. The competition included almost every four-year school in the state from the School of Mines, to the University of Colorado in Boulder, to CSU-Pueblo — 32 teams in all.
The six increasingly difficult obstacle courses included holes, rocks and plywood barriers. The job of Trinidad State’s BEK.E (Beacon Enhanced Kinect Explorer) was to avoid the pitfalls of the course, while moving toward a radio beacon at the finish line. BEK.E was able to complete all six courses, just like ALLEN, her predecessor, did last year.
Two of the four team members had helped build ALLEN and were ready this year with a new and improved robot. While ALLEN tended to bump into obstacles, BEK.E was equipped with much more sophisticated visual sensors.
Robotics Faculty Advisor Cindy Clements relayed that one judge said BEK.E was the most advanced robot on the course.
“It was very much more complicated than last year,” said Clements. “We were actually the only team that came with our own printed circuit board and the judges were very impressed by that.”
Co-captain Hayden Alworth got the idea to give the robot vision while playing with an Xbox Kinect nearly a year ago.
“I realized, wow, it’s actually seeing everything in 3D.” While only 16 years old, Hayden is in his second year on the team. “So then I thought if I could put that on a robot, the robot could see a whole landscape and figure a lot more stuff out.”
When Fall rolled around Clements bought a Kinect sensor and Hayden went to work trying to interface it with BEK.E. It was an arduous undertaking that didn’t work well until about three days before the competition. BEK.E also has ultrasonic sensors that send out a sound wave as well as three infrared sensors to augment its “vision” plus a flexiforce sensor that reacts when the robot actually bumps into something.
“They still had a blind spot,” said Clements, “but Hayden’s programming fixed that mostly. There was still one spot, had we hit a rock on the edge of the wheel, we would never have seen it.”
The other three members of the team are Mary Carpenter, Marissa Esquibel and Alfonso Barandiaran.
Co-captain Carpenter said the experience was awesome. “Everybody here worked so hard and it was so nice working with such a hard working group of people. Everybody got along and we made a really cool robot together. I’m glad I got to do it twice and I’m leaving very happy with what I’ve done here.”
Carpenter will continue her education at the University of New Mexico in the fall.