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Self-driving Robot

Engineering class project

Throughout the second semester of my freshman year, I worked with a team of three other engineers to build a self-driving robot to complete various tasks while navigating an obstacle course. The semester culminated in a whole-class competition and final presentation of our design.

Date: Jan 2014 - May 2014

Team: Keshav Ahuja, Mitch Gabanic, Zach Hinderman


The robot design challenge was a semester-long class project where teams of engineering students created a robot programmed to navigate a course and perform various tasks within a set time limit. 

The project exposed me to a variety of new skills including:

  • Coding

  • 3D modeling and CAD software

  • Circuits, sensors, and soldering

  • Materials testing and mechanics

  • Machine shop


Construction and Testing

While the team members collaborated on a majority of the design, testing, and construction work, some projects lent themselves to individual work. One of these was the need for a compact mechanism to pull a T-shaped pin from a slot in the course.

I went through various design concepts before exploring creating a flexible, segmented set of parallel arms that could grasp and hold the pin. An early prototype of my design can be seen on the left. I used small pieces of plastic, tape, dental floss, hot glue, and paper clips to create this working model. Pulling the floss caused the arms to curl up and this action could grasp the pin. When added to the robot, it was nearly identical to the model, only receiving more durable tape and pennies were placed on the ends of the arms as weights.

Since it was built from inexpensive materials and scraps left over from making the body of the robot, it did not use much of our limited budget. It also interfaced with a servo on another part of the robot to make it move and did not require additional motors. 

As the weeks went on, we steadily assembled the components of the robot and tested them thoroughly, troubleshooting and adjusting the design as we went. As the competition approached, we remained under our allowed budget and had a working robot capable of navigating all the different course conditions. 

Final Design and Competition

Our design performed three runs on the obstacle course and consistently performed most of the tasks correctly and under time. In the days before the final competition, we had observed the robot make numerous perfect runs within the time limit. The team was pleased with the robot's consistent results in the competition, and there were no mechanical or electrical issues. 

I actually ran into my professor a few years later, and she remembered me and my unique design for the flexible pin-pulling mechanism. She complimented the creativity and said she had not seen any similar designs since. 

At the end of the class, the team gave an oral presentation summarizing our design choices, testing plan, and final results. 

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