It’s like David versus Goliath — but with the robot set.
A team of 15 students at Calgary’s DeVry Institute of Technology are set to take on some technology giants to prove their “intelligent” creation can compete with the best.
ALANV II is short for Adaptive Learning Autonomous Navigation Vehicle, and he’s heading for the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition in Oakland, Mich., June 1-3.
“There was one too many engineers in the room at once (when he was named),” explains Alicia Helm, 20, project manager and the only woman on the team.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|Ratish Mohan joins (from bottom left) Kelvin Seier, Alicia Helm and Banja Krtolica to prepare ALANV II for the big leagues.|
ALANV II is the second generation robot out of DeVry. His sire, blessed with a lawn mower engine and a Nintendo joy stick, came fourth in the design part of the competition last year.
This year, he’s much more sophisticated, says Helm of the robot, which can navigate obstacles all by itself with no human input.
There are only two Canadian teams going to Oakland — one from DeVry and one from the University of Alberta.
In many ways, Helm says, they have already won — with what they have learned along the way.
“Students apply and play with what they are learning in class,” says Ratish Mohan, unofficially the “hero” of the project and officially the project manager.
As an information systems instructor, Mohan says ALANV II has taught the students many things — including time management and team building — that they wouldn’t normally learn until they are on the job.
The competition, he says, is about giving the group a sense of confidence and networking with others in the field and, because practical applications of robots like ALANV II eventually include steering cars, planes and submarines, representatives from industry will be there, too.
The opposition will be tough, with some teams composed of PhD students funded to the tune of a quarter of a million U.S. dollars.
In contrast, the Calgary students raised about $30,000 in cash and materials, some of it derived from a lowly bottle drive and pizza sales.
“Teams from Japan are on the leading edge,” says Helm, who on the basis of this experience has decided to train as an engineer — specializing in robotics, of course.
“I have somehow walked into a new kind of realm. I am finally doing what excites me.”
As the competition draws closer, the rest of the team is also excited, e-mailing each other in the small hours of the night when they come up with new refinements.
Mohan already has his eye on next year, hoping to lure more students into the program and to drum up increased support from the business sector. He also is considering a long-term plan to take ALANV II into schools.
“It’s a great way to get kids excited about technology,” he says.
Helm adds: “Most kids hate calculus, but in designing ALANV II we had to pull out the calculus books and figure it all out.”