Graceland Robots Finish First for Third Year


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On April 7-8, 2006, 18 computer science and information technology students and 3 faculty from Graceland attended the 39th annual Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium (MICS) in Mt. Pleasant, IA, to attend presentations and compete in programming and robot contests. Graceland came away with first place in the heavyweight robot division and second place in the lightweight division.

The robot contest this year differed from past years, requiring more brute force than intelligence in a "Sumo wrestling" event that pitted robots against one another on a circular platform trying to force their opponent off the platform. The team of Dritan Zhuja and Megan Fryer won the heavyweight division with their MegaNuke robot. It had some clever tricks programmed into it so that it could alter its direction, speed, and power for different situations and opponents. This is the third year for Dritan to win the title. Graceland had another heavyweight entry named SuperMarioBot by Michael Robins and Penny Birring. Their robot was like a brick fortress that moved using independent motors for each of the 4 wheels. It lost ground to its opponents as it began to lose battery life, but it happily played the SuperMario tune in its defeat. Graceland's lightweight robot, RoboTux, by Jimmy Christofis and Brian Fonseca, was geared for speed. It impressed the crowd in the final contest when it narrowly escaped a broadside push to the edge, with a quick side movement once its sensors detected the edge. Unfortunately, in the final battle its light sensor broke loose causing it to hug the edge of the platform in a desperate escape routine. Eventually, RoboTux was confronted and pushed off the platform by the winning robot from Minnesota's College of St. Scholastica, for a second place finish in the lightweight division. In all there were 11 robot teams from 8 different schools, and Graceland had 3 robot teams. All Graceland robots were designed from LegoMindstorm components.

In the computer programming contest Graceland had 4 teams competing against 30 other teams from 18 different schools. Three of our teams solved two or three problems each in less than 3 hours. So this was a good showing, especially since one of our teams got a late start due to a logistics problem. There were 12 Graceland students participating in the contest: Jimmy Christofis, Michael Robins, Jacqui Everett, Bojan Raic, Blake Grundman, Nick Gay, Dritan Zhuja, Megan Fryer, Greg Kelly, Ross Polly, Norman Wong, and Karan Dhungana.

Others attending the conference to attend presentations and to cheer on the teams were Samantha Bigger, Sha Chen, Shelby Williams, Francis Ambrosia, and faculty sponsors Jim Jones, Bob Farnham, and Kevin Brunner.

Leading up to this conference these students met weekly at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) meetings on campus to prepare for these contests and battle each other with their developing robot designs. ACM President Dritan Zhuja said, "more students were interested and involved this year than any prior". "Interest has grown in these types of activities at Graceland", he said. Expenses for this trip and components for the different robots were funded by the Ackerley Computer Science and Technology Scholars Program at Graceland. Ackerley Program Director, Jim Jones, said "this has been a terrific year for our students and I am very proud of their accomplishments".

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