sealPurdue News

February 11, 2000

University and high school students build robot

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Students from Purdue University and two nearby high schools have joined forces to create their very own R2D2.

The project is part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology contest, or FIRST, which challenges students to build a functional robot from a kit of parts provided by the competition organizers. The 20 students from West Lafayette and Harrison high schools are aided by 16 Purdue engineering majors from the Purdue Student Engineering Foundation. Participants will invest about 1,400 hours in the six-week project.

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When finished, the robot will traverse freely over a playing field of carpet collecting 13-inch balls and throwing the balls into a large basket. The machine must be ready by Feb. 21 to compete against similar robots from about 30 schools in the March 23 Regional Robotics Competition at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Judging is based on the number of "baskets" made by the robot in a two-minute period, as well as animation and presentation of the project. The winning team at the regional competition will advance to the National Robotics Competition, slated for late spring in Orlando, Fla.

"The most important result from this is that the high school students experience the whole process of designing and constructing a serviceable device," said Purdue mechanical engineering assistant professor George Chiu, who is volunteering as an adviser. "The goal is to help high school students understand what engineering is all about and get them interested in science, technology and engineering."

Other Purdue advisers are mechanical engineering associate professors Raymond Cipra and Gordon Pennock. West Lafayette High School teachers Steve Florence and Peter von Werder are coaching the team.

"We've got students from ninth to 12th grade working on this, and it's a very valuable experience for them because it allows them to be involved in an engineering environment," said Florence, who is also the project manager. "It's also good because the high school students get to work with students who have already chosen a career. It helps them make their own choices about their futures."

Purdue students said they have learned much from their involvement in the project.

"I did it in high school," said mechanical engineering major Shannon Schnepp, who graduated from Waterford High School near Detroit. "I felt I gained a lot of experience, and I wanted to bring that same experience to the high school students here."

Kevin Braman, a junior mechanical engineering major from Wheaton, Ill., said the project helped him gain new skills.

"It enabled me to direct my talents in different ways, such as the organization and administration of a project while working with different people," he said.

Adam Miller, a junior chemical engineering major from Houston, Texas, agreed.

"I got to practice my leadership and administrative skills, and it's been fun to see real-world application of what we've learned in the classroom," he said. "I've also met a lot of good people. We've become a close-knit group."

Funding for the project came from various sources, including Purdue Engineering Dean Richard Schwartz, the School of Mechanical Engineering, Whirlpool Corp., Caterpillar Inc. and TRW Commercial Steering Division. The group has raised $9,000 to date, but it will need $16,000 more by April if the team makes it to the national competition.

"That's how much we'll need to take 35 people to the nationals," said Florence.

However the local team ranks in the regional competition, one thing is certain: All participants said they are committed to making this project an annual endeavor.

"Definitely," said Schnepp. "I'd like to see this grow and become an annual event."

Sources: George Chiu, (765) 494-2688,

Steve Florence, (765) 775-1300,

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-2073,

Other sources: Shannon Schnepp,

Adam Miller, (765) 496-7733,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Purdue engineering majors team with Tippecanoe County high school students to create a functional robot for the Regional Robotics Competition. Standing, from left, are Adam Soloman, Purdue junior; project adviser George Chiu, a Purdue mechanical engineering assistant professor; Jessie Geahlen and Noah Solomon, West Lafayette High School juniors; and John Leimgruber, Purdue sophomore. Seated are John McElfresh and Vangna Hanga, West Lafayette High School seniors, and project coordinator Steve Florence. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: chiu.robot

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