Once again, electrical engineering students from Suffolk University placed in the annual IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) robotic competition held this year at Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Teaneck NJ, on April 28, 2007.

In the Micromouse Competition, an autonomous robot must solve a 16 by 16 grid maze to travel from one corner to a single entrance in the maze’s middle four squares. The robot use infrared or ultrasonic sensors to “see” the walls; stepper motors with wheels to provide mobility; and a microprocessor to implement the search algorithm and keep track of the maze walls and openings as it navigates through the course possibilities. Most maze solutions are very circuitous, with many alternate dead ends.

Competition consisted of seven colleges from New England competing with either one or two robots. This year the entrants were from the College of New Jersey, Cooper Union, DeVry University, Fairleigh Dickinson, the City College of New York, Binghamton University, and Suffolk University. In the past this competition has involved universities from Maine to New Jersey, and as far west as Ohio.

This year Suffolk placed first and third. The first place team consisted of seniors, Gael Hatchue, Fernanda Zulkarnain, and Ilyas Hamdi. Their robot was steady and stable, with frequent re-alignment corrections. The third place team members included Jason Lin, Alimatou Ndiaye, and Danny Wang. Their robot was more aggressive, but less stable, losing its orientation about half-way through the maze. On its second run it ran out of time before completing the maze.

This year also marked the first time that Suffolk has competed in the IEEE paper competition, in which a research effort is documented and presented. Gael Hatchue provided a polished presentation of a wireless link using a camera and computer to control the actions of robots on a playing field. Images from the camera were processed for position, orientation, and speed of the fighting robots. This information was sent to the robots which subsequently implement their own strategies. A demonstration of two Sumo fighting robots using this system will be given in Archer 402 this Thursday (May 3rd) at 4PM. This represents seven months of admirable effort by Gael who has designed, built, troubleshot, programmed, and customized the robots and the video processing system.

Gael demonstrated his working system as part of his presentation. It was discovered only afterwards that the paper competition frowns on demonstrations; placing higher value on the paper itself. Gael did receive very high marks for his composure and eloquence in his presentation.

Suffolk has a long history of success in the robotic competition, winning or placing in almost every year since 2001. It has also hosted the competition in 2002. Publicity for this accomplishment (such as this year’s) has often been lost due to the event invariably taking place on the weekend before final exams. By the time the news is forwarded to the University, all the students have left for the summer.

The competition does have financial rewards however – the first three places win from 300 to 1000 dollars.

Dr. Craig Christensen has been the advisor to the IEEE since 2000. Dr. Mostapha Ziad has also been a supporting faculty member over the past two years. When a team from Suffolk arrives, it always makes an impression, typically outnumbering all the other schools except the host school in participants. This years’ team of ten members also included Fabrice Kabore and Chris Cheng.

Next year the underclassmen will need to replace our graduating seniors. Gael Hatchue has been accepted at Cornell University for both a Masters and a Doctoral program; Ilyas Hamas has a job position with Raytheon Corp. and is considering options for a Master’s program; Fernanda Zulkarnain has been accepted at Boston University for their Master’s program, although he is slated to graduate in December of this year.