Robotics Team Does Well at MICS'07 Competition

by Randy Meline, director of media relations at Graceland University

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Senior Dritan Zhuja, from Kosovo, led the Graceland Robotics team to an impressive showing in the 40th Annual Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium (MICS) held in Grand Forks, North Dakota April 20-21. Zhuja and Megan Fryer, from Ontario, teamed up to capture second place in the robot heavyweight division and Zhuja was one of the few undergraduates selected to present a research paper. The Graceland team included 15 students.

Ackerley Scholars Computer Program Director James Jones, visiting professor "Maggie" Yu and Mathematics Professor Ron Smith provided faculty support.

The symposium is a gathering of faculty, students and computing professionals who participate in presentations, demonstrations and competitions. “Our Midwest Computing Heritage” was the theme for the keynote address and a panel discussion.

Dritan and Megan have an impressive record in regional competitions. Dritan had won the contest for the past three years and was looking for a perfect sweep for his undergraduate years. Megan finished second behind Dritan her freshman year but the two teamed up the next two years to capture first place.

The contest involves two robots that face each other on a circular platform and then try to push the opponent off the edge. Unlike the previous year, an obstacle was added to the center of the platform to complicate the robots’ navigation. According to Jones, the final contest was a hard fight until a chance turn by the Graceland robot made it vulnerable to its opponent and it took a dive over the edge.

Zhuja presented his undergraduate research paper entitled Balancing Bi-Pod Robot, which had been critically reviewed and accepted for the conference. He discussed his quest to construct and install an inexpensive balance sensor in a two-legged robot. He had his bi-pod robot on display and demonstrated how it sensed and reacted to any imbalance.

There were 24 robots from 14 schools competing. Graceland entered five robots, but only the Megan-Dritan model placed. Three of the five Graceland entries were from first-time or freshman builders. According to Jones, most were able to win at least one round against an opponent in the double-elimination contest.

In the programming contest, 42 teams from 22 schools competed. Graceland sponsored four teams with 12 students total. While all the Graceland teams were able to solve contest problems within the two-and-a-half hour contest time, none of them placed within the top three spots.

Jones noted that this is the first year prize money was offered to the winners. There were many more teams this year, and “the competition was much stiffer,” Jones said. Jones also reported that it was a long ride up and back to North Dakota.

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