Kimmel School team takes the title at a major engineering competition


A student team from the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology recently claimed first place at a robotics competition at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Southeastern conference in Charlotte. “There is much here of which to be proud, and this is a great point of honor for us,” said Robert McMahan, dean of the Kimmel School. “This is a big deal in engineering circles and something to be celebrated.”

Competing against schools such as North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, nine WCU students collaborated on a solar-powered robot. The team’s entry had to collect energy from four bright lights on the competition course, and could not have any stored energy at the start of the competition. With these constraints, the shoebox-sized robot was judged on its effectiveness in crossing the starting line, traveling a series of ramps and completing a trip around the obstacle course.

Meeting for hours upon hours during the fall and spring semesters, the students worked with their faculty mentors from engineering technology, Peter Tay and Robert Adams, to create the winning entry. “During the spring semester, there was a period when I couldn’t walk past the senior project room without seeing a member of the team working on the robot, including Saturdays,” said Tay.

The students working on the project also were supervised by Paul Yanik, assistant professor of engineering technology, and other faculty and staff of the Kimmel School. Jerry Denton ’02 MS ’03, electronics applications engineer for the school, supervised the fabrication of the circuits for the robot. “The project was not to build a commercially available robot. Rather, we designed, implemented and tested every detail of the robot from scratch,” said Tay.

With two wheels at the front, the robot could turn in any direction. An empty soda bottle sliced lengthwise was attached on the back as a ski, which allowed the robot to skid along the ground when necessary. With this mobility, the robot was able to seek light with efficiency, Adams said.

“The project was a team effort because members had roles according to their abilities, and they stuck with the project and did not give up,” he said. Using knowledge from their engineering and electricity courses, they divided the work to develop the winning robot, said Adams. “I was so impressed with the drive and perseverance of this student team,” he said. “They just keep going and going.”

IEEE consists of 300,000 members worldwide who work in the area of electrical engineering and related disciplines. The Southeastern conference includes the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, areas of Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, and the country of Jamaica.

A robot created by Kimmel School students earned first place in a regional competition. Team members, from left, are Brittany Young, John Ray, Kayla Sanders ’10, Oscar Gamez (front), Lee Holland (back), Kristen Rivers, Casey Icenhour (back), Chris Roberts (front) and Scott Allen.