MTSU students make major impact at National Robotics Challenge

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As two judges observe, Wenbo Dong, left, an MTSU computational sciences graduate student, makes an adjustment to his entry in the Mini-Sumo Robot competition at the National Robotics Challenge in Marion, Ohio. Dong captured first place. Also shown are Jazlyn Villafuerte, top right, Dustin Arnold and Jaquelin Villafuerte. (MTSU photo by Vishwas Bedekar)

For the second consecutive year, members of the MTSU Robotics Club shined at the National Robotics Challenge recently at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Marion, Ohio.

This year, MTSU emerged with gold and silver awards in the Mini-Sumo Robot competition, silver and bronze in Combat Robot competition and a bronze in the Autonomous Vehicles Challenge.

MTSU's winners included:

• Wenbo Dong, a computational sciences graduate student from Beijing, China, who earned first place in the Mini Sumo robot competition and second place in Combat Robot event.

• Jacob Pawelski, senior and team captain from Elmwood, Tennessee; junior Sarah Zakaria of Thompson's Station, Tennessee, and sophomore Michael Boyteof Frederick, Maryland -- all mechatronics engineering majors -- for a third-place showing in Combat Robot.

• Corey Gamache, junior and team captain from Murfreesboro, and juniors Nick Bledsoe and Alex Davis-Snow, both from Murfreesboro, captured third place in the Autonomous Vehicles Challenge. All are mechatronics majors.

"The teams did extremely well considering they won gold and silver awards in the Mini-Sumo competition at the postsecondary (level 3) level and the other awards," said Vishwas Bedekar, club adviser and assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Technology. "Overall, it was a very productive competition for us and the students learned a lot from this exposure."

The Mini-Sumo Robot needs to be self-propelled, self-controlled, powered by electrical batteries and be able to sense the other competition robot, Bedekar said.

In Combat Robot, students design and create a single, custom-built machine that employs one or more methods of destroying or disabling their robot competitor. In the Autonomous Vehicle Challenge, each team had to design and build a vehicle to try to navigate an obstacle course in less than five minutes.

With approximately 450 robots participating, more than 1,300 students and 80 schools from eight states competed in divisions including college and university, high school, middle school and elementary school, event organizers said. MTSU's on-site rivals were the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Case Western Reserve University.

The MTSU club has been participating at the nationals since 2016 when MTSU was a Mini-Sumo Robot finalist. Members earned gold and bronze awards in Combat Robot and a bronze in Autonomous Vehicles Challenge.

The robotics club student chapter in engineering technology "has been consistently improving each year in terms of teams' performances across competitions at the National Robotics Challenge," Bedekar said.

Bedekar acknowledged the support from Walter Boles, engineering technology chair, student activity fee funds and from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Chapter 43 in Nashville.

"Without these supporting entities, it would be impossible to make progress toward these student projects and creative activities," Bedekar said.

MTSU has more than 240 combined undergraduate and graduate programs. Engineering technology is one of 11 College of Basic and Applied Sciences departments.

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