Senior Design Project: A Walking Robot
On Friday the 14th, engineering students Nathan Petrarca and Tom Paccione, who worked under supervision of Dr. González, presented their Senior Design Project entitled “Autonomous Bipedal Robot”. Nathan explains the meaning of the robot attributes: “We wanted it both bipedal and autonomous for some reasons. It would be an advantage for, say, a collapsed mine, to have a rescue-robot that can walk and make decisions by itself” According to Tom, “in such a case, motion on wheels would not be appropriate, as a rescue-robot needs to be able go around obstacles such as rocks on the mine ground.”
From left to right, Nathan Petrarca, Minimus Prime and Tom Paccione at the Controls Lab.
The students jokingly named their tiny robot “Minimus Prime,” in contrast to the giant robot “Optimus Prime” from the Transformers movie. As Tom says, “Working on this project was a lot of fun, and at the same time, we learned a lot”. Learning while having fun is a feature of the engineering capstone out-of-class experience called Senior Design Project. According to Nathan, “Our courses at New Paltz gave us the knowledge and tools to succeed on our project. When you are taught how to think critically, then you can enjoy learning independently”.
But Minimus Prime is far from just a walking toy. It is able to detect and obstacle, slow down and eventually come to a stop, and resume motion once the obstacle has disappeared. A significant amount of engineering and a justified pride are associated with these seemingly simple tasks, as Nathan explains: “We had to learn a new programming language and how to interconnect the microprocessor (brain) to the sensors (eyes) and the servo motors (muscles). We worked for a long time to watch Minimus take his first steps, so when he finally walked, we were filled with a great sense of accomplishment.”
Minimus Prime about to start walking toward the camera,