Tufts Robotics wins international competition at Trinity College

Faizan Muhammad poses with a robot outside of Tisch Library on April 23, 2018. Madeleine Oliver / The Tufts Daily

On April 7 and 8, the Tufts Robotics Club attended the Trinity College Fire Fighting Robot Contest, hosted by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where they won the Olympiad tournament in both the team and individual categories.

According to club president Ryan Stocking, a senior, this year’s success in the Olympiad marks the team’s fourth win since 2014. Stocking said he believes the win demonstrates the competence and effectiveness of Tufts Robotics as a whole.

“I think it’s something that shows our success, because we have students who were on the Olympiad team who had never done robotics before,” Stocking said. “To have them be part of team that can win at an international competition is pretty impressive. It’s an indication of our effectiveness at teaching people robotics.”

This particular contest has both a mechanical robot competition and a trivia-based olympiad. Tufts Robotics competed in both.

Sophomore Amel Hassan explained that preparation for the physical robot portion of the competition began as early as September.

“We started designing the robot at the beginning of the year,” Hassan said. “The first thing we did was look at what the competition expected from us and then we created our own maze for testing.”

According to the contest website, every participating team had to submit a robot that could navigate a maze and extinguish a lighted candle, meant to model a house fire, placed at the center. Prizes were awarded based on which robot managed this task the fastest and in the most cost-effective way possible.

In order to navigate the maze, Tufts Robotics engineered a robot that followed the right wall of whatever corridor it was in. A fire extinguisher was attached to the robot to put out the flame.

“The basic algorithm behind the robot tried to make it hug the right wall so that it would continuously go around the maze to find the candle,” Hassan said.  

Hassan and her teammates said they engineered the robot to turn on and off remotely.

“We needed something called a ‘kill switch’ that turns the robot off completely with one plug. Then we had a sensor that could start the robot in response to a really high-pitched noise,” Hassan said.

The Olympiad portion of the contest required contestants to respond to an array of engineering questions pertinent to robotics. The questions drew from a variety of engineering disciplines, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science.  

This year’s individual Olympiad winner Faizan Muhammad, a sophomore, said that members of the Tufts team are well-equipped to succeed in the Olympiad due to the way engineering is taught here.

Tufts has historically been really good with theoretical stuff,” Muhammad said. “It’s simply due to the way we are taught here.”

Muhammad hopes that Tufts’ success at this tournament will attract new recruits to the club.  

“We are really trying to reach out to the community because robotics is one of the most interdisciplinary engineering clubs on campus,” Muhammad said. “If you are a computer science person, there is something you can do. If you are are electrical engineer, there is something you can do. Even for environmental engineers, there is something you can do. There is lots of cool potential here.”