JSU Robotics team takes national contest
by Paige Rentz
The third time was definitely a charm for the Jacksonville State University Robotics team.

The team—consisting of Sam Thompson, Jonathon Thompson, Ben Ledbetter, Jessica Civitello, Tina Civitello, Aimee Montgomery and Morgan McDonald—took home top honors Friday at a national contest hosted by the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering.

“We’ve been getting progressively better,” said Sam Thompson, president of JSU’s student chapter of ATMAE. In the team’s first appearance at the 2010 contest in Panama City Beach, Fla., a misplaced wire after a battery switch left the robot inoperable and the team disqualified after two rounds. In last year’s competition, the team finished second.

But this year, the team members had their eyes on the top prize. The name they gave their robot — Anita Wynn — said it all.

And they won three of the five categories – best electronic control, best manufacturing and the live competition— and the entire event. The team was tasked with manually driving the four-wheel drive machine into the arena and up to a 10-foot circle. The robot must then autonomously drive into the circle and up to a table filled with colored ping pong balls, collect the balls from the table, and return to the outside of the circle. Once outside the circle, a team member can resume manual control and have the robot sort the balls by color and empty them into the designated containers spread about the course.

The members of the team worked for several months on the robot that functions both manually via remote control and autonomously. With a theme of re-engineering, the team reworked its approach to the same task it undertook last year.

According to Sam Thompson, the team overcame a first-round touch sensor issue to outperform the rest of the teams in the final two rounds, including a perfect score in the final round. “That means we retrieved all 36 balls, correctly sorted all four colors and dropped them off at the goal areas without any errors,” he said via email after the competition.

A win for the group is good for the university, said Jonathan Thompson, especially since contest sponsor ATMAE is also the organization that accredits the university’s engineering programs. “It’s kind of a big deal,” he said before the team left for Nashville. “It makes our school look good.”
© 2012