Tech Robotics Teams Put Out Fires with the Best of Them, April 20, 2000

HARTFORD, Conn., April 20, 2000 -- Five teams composed of New Mexico Tech electrical engineering students and one recent Tech graduate proved once again this past weekend that Tech-designed robots can "put out fires" alongside the best of them at the Seventh Annual Fire-Fighting Home Robot Contest, an international robotics contest held annually at Trinity College.

(Tech Robotics Club homepage)

"MRK I," an entry submitted by Julie Wiens, placed second overall in the senior division of the fire-fighting robot competition, coming out ahead of nearly 100 other robots designed by individuals and teams from throughout the United States, Canada, Korea, Israel, and Switzerland.

A team from Yoav Rodan Zur College in Israel was the only one to place ahead of Wiens with its robot, "Fuzzy."

Wiens also designed and built a "back-up" robot for the contest, "MRK II," which also was entered and eventually ended up in ninth place overall.

In addition, she was further recognized at the international competition for her resourceful design that included a ring of fire sensors in her robotic entries and was awarded the contest's "Innovation and Marketability Award."

Wiens is a recent graduate of New Mexico Tech who now works on a full-time basis at the state-supported research university as a teaching assistant with Tech's electrical engineering department and as a robotics research assistant.

Other New Mexico Tech entries also fared well in the robotics contest, including a fourth-place finish by "Kokopeli," a robot designed and developed by Tech juniors Randy Clark, Josef Hart, Donald Nelson, and Shawn Taylor.

All contestants at the Fire-Fighting home Robot Contest were challenged to build a computerized, autonomous (not remotely controlled) robotic device which could move through the hallways and rooms of a scaled-down, one-story house, detect a lit candle, and then extinguish the flame. The robot which accomplished the task in the least amount of time was declared the winner.

The other New Mexico Tech fire-fighting robots entered in this year's international competition included:

  • "Rosie" (which placed eighth), team members were Rebecca Brown, Adam Garcia, Manuel Jaramillo, and Michael Jones;
  • "Scraps" (which placed 11th), team members were Marc Cooley, Robert Hulsman, Jason Miller, and Jason Trowbridge; and
  • "B.J." (which placed 19th), team members were Jonathan Andrews and Ben Hoover.

Several of the Tech students competing in the fire-fighting robot contest were interviewed by Scientific American for a feature story on robotics, which the magazine plans to include in one of its upcoming issues.

Faculty advisors to all four Tech robotics teams were Dr. Stephen Bruder and Dr. Kevin Wedeward, both assistant professors of electrical engineering at New Mexico Tech.

"With competition from international undergraduate and graduate students, as well as practicing engineers, the success of our robots at the international competition speaks very well for the quality of students in New Mexico Tech's undergraduate electrical engineering program," Wedeward says.

"Even more important than our competitiveness was the chance for our students to gauge how favorably their education and skills matched up with those of other college students and engineers from the United States and around the world," he adds.