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Bring Your Friends! The Fundamentals of Engineering Honors Robot Competition is a Spectator Sport

Students watch robot on the practice courseFEH students (from the left) John Burgess, Kayla Cleary, Dana Brooks, and Tyler Terbrack watch their robot work its way around a practice course in the classroom

For the 22nd year in a row, Ohio State’s Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors (FEH) Program will culminate in an action-packed robotics competition that is free and open to the public.

Watch the video from the 2015 Competition.

Teams of 3 or 4 engineering students will pit their autonomous robots against each other in head-to-head competitions to see which Robot can most efficiently complete a number of tasks in a “Rocket Launch” scenario. 

Prize money—generously donated by industry sponsors—will be awarded in the following categories: Most Consistent, Best Engineered, Most Innovative, Best Documentation, Gracious Professionalism, and winner of a head-to-head single-elimination competition; professional engineers will be among the contest judges.  Anyone interested in engineering, technology, or effective teamwork is invited to attend.

Of course, the competition is more than just a day of fun—it is the culmination of a year of work in which students are introduced to the skills that will help them be successful in their academic and professional engineering careers.

Dr. Kathy Harper, a faculty member in the Fundamentals of Engineering Honors (FEH) program and one of a team of contest organizers, says the developers of the original contest (a rarity in 1994) put a lot of thought into how it would help to shape Ohio State’s First Year Engineering Program. In Fundamentals of Engineering classes, students learn problem-solving, design and drafting, computer coding, communication, and teamwork.

According to Dr. Harper, a big part of what makes the program at Ohio State uniquely effective is the knowledge that freshman are capable of doing meaningful design work. Experience in the program, then, can be challenging but is ultimately empowering.  “At conferences,” Harper says, “people [from other programs] will show robots that their seniors are building, and they’re not as complicated as the ones our freshmen are building.”

Student and TA work prepare a practice robot for students to work with in the labTeaching Assistants Brielle Reiff and Robert Ziebarth prepare a practice robot for students to work with in the lab.Leading up to the contest, students learn to take a complex project—such as building an autonomous robot—and break it into a number of smaller tasks.  First they design the robot within the given parameters (using both hand-drawn sketches and computer-aided drafts), then they actually construct it.  They also write computer code that will enable the robot to operate autonomously while successfully completing the assigned tasks.

Each year, the theme of the contest is developed by a team of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants. This year, to complete the “Rocket Launch” tasks, the robots must start when a light in the floor is illuminated, transport supplies from a storage area to the rocket preparation area, read a light that tells them which of two fuel buttons to press and hold for at least 5 seconds to deliver the needed fuel to the rocket, and flip three switches for the correct launch sequence.  (The information for the launch sequence is sent to the robots wirelessly.)  When all tasks are complete, the robots push a button to indicate that all systems are go for launch.

As they develop their prototype, the teams repeatedly test and refine it with the goal of catching and correcting glitches and continually making the overall design more efficient.

In addition to the technical aspects, students learn professional skills such as teamwork, project management, and technical communication (just like professional engineers, they are required to document each step of their work in a project notebook; they also give oral reports on their projects).

Competing for the sake of pride and cash money certainly provides the student teams extra motivation.  The real prize for all students, though, no matter how they place, is experience.  Whether looking for internships or full-time positions, students report that employers are highly interested in what they learned from the contest (and employers agree that being part of it makes candidates stronger and more marketable).

Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors Robot Competition

Saturday, April 9, 2016, 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Recreation and Physical Activity Center (RPAC)

337 W 17th Ave.

Columbus, OH 43210


To learn more about Fundamentals of Engineering Honors, contact Dr. Rick Freuler, Director