snow team

Members of the team and the advisors in St. Paul

Photo courtesy of: Institute of Navigation, North Star Section


Crowd at St. Paul competition

Photo courtesy of: Institute of Navigation, North Star Section


Ohio University winning snowplow

Photo courtesy of: Institute of Navigation, North Star Section

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Electrical engineering students all clear for second robotic snowplow win

Electrical engineering students from Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology were the reigning champions once again at the Institute of Navigation's annual autonomous snowplow competition in St. Paul, Minn., Jan. 26-29.

Team M.A.C.S. members Samantha Craig, a senior from Columbus; Ryan Kollar, a junior from Twinsburg, Ohio; and graduate students Pengfei Duan and Kuangmin Li, from China; snagged first place and the $3,000 award – beating out Miami University, the University of Michigan at Dearborn, the University of Minnesota and Dunwoody College of Technology.

Teams were required to design, build and navigate an autonomous snowplow to clear snow from "I" and "U" shaped paths using high-precision navigation and control technology.

Team M.A.C.S., for "monocular autonomously controlled snowplow," used a 360-degree laser that detected beacons the team set up around the course. An onboard computer then told the plow how to navigate based on the incoming information.

According to team co-adviser and Russ Professor of Electrical Engineering Frank Van Graas, the competition this year featured a simulated post added close to the snowfield and bonus-point awards for finishing each run within 20 minutes. In addition, the amount of snow on one part of the path was increased from two to four inches.

"Our snowplow was redesigned to run at a speed four times that of last year – we can now plow at 4.5 mph, which is quite fast," Van Graas said.

Veteran team member Craig noted that to ensure the ability to plow at higher speeds and receive the maximum number of bonus points, the team used funding from the Provost Undergraduate Research Fund to purchase new motor controllers.

The motors also were replaced, encoders were added to all four motors and the motor wiring was replaced with heavy duty cables. The control system also was redesigned and the computer was upgraded.

The team's other adviser, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Wouter Pelgrum, said the team also practiced using local snow – scraped from Ohio University's Bird Arena with the help of Ohio University Head Hockey Coach Dan Morris.

"Bird Arena was too slick, so we trucked the snow to behind the Academic & Research Center and built paths using two-by-fours to frame the snow," Pelgrum explained.

And it worked to the team's advantage. Because there was no natural snow in St Paul during the competition, local hockey stadium snow was used – heavy snow just like Team M.A.C.S. had tested with.

Craig says that now more than ever, she wants to work in the field of navigation and, ultimately, become a professor. "I would love to have the ability to provide opportunities such as this to students who are excited to learn and willing to work hard," she said.

Teammate Kollar also said the competition strengthened his plans to continue his education – and not only increased his knowledge of engineering but gave him great experience working in a professional atmosphere. "I learned more things than I can list – from hardware, to working with heavy machinery, circuitry and wiring, and woodworking; to software, navigation and controls programming; to management, organization and presentation skills; as well as working together on a team," he noted.

M.A.C.S. also won the Golden Pen award of $500 for best final report and the Golden Shovel award of $500 for best student final presentation, which will be presented at the competitive Institute of Navigation Satellite Division Conference in September 2012. The prize money will go toward next year's competition.