Robotics club overcomes obstacles

In a season filled with frustration for the Robotics Club, every member shared Tim Rodenbeck’s thoughts:

“In the end, it was worth it.”

Tim Rodenbeck and Bob McCoy were key contributors in building the robot while Jackie Saunders led the group as club president.

This year’s SUMO competition entailed knocking the opposing robot out of a square.

Instead of going with a robot that could flip its opponent and push it out, the club decided to go with a bigger one that would use brute force to push its opponent out of the square.

“Our students wanted something that was big and bad,” Robotics Club advisor Bob Leonard said.

The 125-pound robot consisted of a car battery, steel frame and four motors going into two gear boxes.

“It was pretty utilitarian. There was nothing really exotic about it,” McCoy said. “It was a pretty nuts and bolts set up we had.”

Because the robot was in the heavyweight division, it was not remote-controlled. Once it was on the stage floor, they simply watched it go to work.

There is an electronic device, which Leonard calls the “brick,” that acts as the brain of the robot.

The members programmed the brick to go in a circle. Once its sensors locate its opponent, it moves towards it.

In the fall, MCCC student Tim Rodenbeck chose to help build the robot to fulfill a requirement for his automation.

He chose to stay with the project in the spring semester despite having no obligation to do so. His unwavering devotion to the club meant spending many Saturdays at MCCC, a 30 minute drive from his home in Temperance.

“I wanted to see it through to the end,” Rodenbeck said. “I didn’t want to give up and say I did my part.”

The Robotics Club had problems going into April’s competition.

Rodenbeck said the team had many setbacks. They lacked funding and participation, and the design had trouble with electrical failures, design issues, and crossed wires.

The club struggled to escape their bad fortune as the season ended.

They discovered their robot was too heavy a week before the competition, forcing them to hastily reduce its weight.

“[It felt] like overall devastation. With all the setbacks, it was just one more thing we had to deal with.” Rodenbeck said. “But, we were too far to throw up our hands and give up.”

Nothing went wrong except for one sensor malfunction during their last competition.

“There weren’t any missing pieces, setbacks or anything on that day” Rodenbeck said.

The Robotics Club finished third out of five teams. They were satisfied with the result after all of the turmoil they had endured.

Rodenback is set to transfer to the University of Toledo in the fall and hopes to build robots for the military.

He was drawn to robotics by a YouTube video that showed a robot named “Big Dog” made by Boston Dynamics. The robot could react to its environment without outside help.

Leonard said Rodenback has a wide array of skills that will make him viable for the occupation.

Student Bob McCoy enjoyed working with Rodenbeck.

“We respected each other strengths,” McCoy said. “I had no problem taking his ideas and running with them and he didn’t have any problem doing the same with mine.”

McCoy enrolled at MCCC as part of a retraining program funded by his former employer, a lab that tested vehicles durability. The degree he is pursuing is product and process technology.

McCoy enjoyed the experience and said he would join the club next year, if he decides to enroll.

“It was very interesting, it lets you put the skills and concepts you learn in your classes to work,” McCoy said.

MCCC instructor Bob Leonard gave students the chance to use their newly attained abilities outside the classroom by launching the Robotics Club eight years ago.

Leonard, who took the role of club advisor, described it as a “team oriented, hands-on design project, that the students work on for competition.”

Leonard pointed out MCCC is one of the few community colleges around the area with a robotics club.

“It takes a lot of time,” Leonard said. “It’s not very easy to keep a group together.”

MCCC’s Robotics Club has had its struggles through the years. Low membership has caused them to miss three of the annual competitions.

Funding is another issue the club faces. This year’s robot cost $600.

One member’s job is to write letters to local stores asking for parts for their projects. They also ask for grants from various foundations.

The Society of Manufacturing and Engineering hosts the robotics competitions.

SME provides members with educational material on technology, manufacturing and engineering, along with plant tours, and a place for schools to showcase their robots. This is all at a cost of $20 per year for students.

SME has given the Robotics Clubs different tasks through the years.

For two years running MCCC taken second in a challenge that required their robot to find a magnet six inches under ground. Students are initially overwhelmed at the thought of making a robot do such complex tasks.

Leonard said he gave club President Jackie Saunders an hour to use the LEGO Mindstorm to program the mini-robot to do a certain task and she accomplished that feat in a half hour.

Leonard spoke highly of Saunders.

“She was a very, very good student, very nice person, works well with others. She was an integral part of this group,” Leonard said.

Leonard states in the SME Robotics Club syllabus that he wants women to participate as much as men.

“Some women feel they can’t do that, but they can,” Leonard said. “There’s not enough women in engineering and it should be rich with men and women.”

Leonard’s emphasis on women joining the club seemed to have persuaded Saunders to join.

“I joined the club because at first there was an initiative for women to join the robotics because there is so much in the industry for women to be involved in now,” Sanders said.

Saunders plans on being a part of the club next year and use this year’s experience to go in a different direction.

“Putting the most weight on isn’t always the best technique, we learned that sometimes speed and putting more motors in it is the best technique,” Saunders said.

As president of the club, she hopes to raise more funding and give awareness to a club that she thinks could benefit engineering students at MCCC.

“It’s a really good program and it’s not as recognized as it should be” Saunders said. “It’s all about exposing them to