5 Takeaways from Student Design Competition

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A rather unusual but exciting soccer match took place on a Saturday in April at Penn State University in State College, Pa. The players passed, toppled, and even scored goals, though not as good as Messi or Ronaldo.

No, this wasn’t the World Cup but ASME’s Student Design Competition (SDC) held during E-Fest East at PSU, where over 50 teams from universities vied for the top prize during a daylong event held at the Bryce Jordan Center.

The competition, which took a cues from the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament to be held in Russia, challenged students to design and build robots capable of competing in a modified four-way game of football—or soccer, as it’s called in the U.S. In each round, four teams went head-to-head with their robots navigating a “field” board to gain the most points by either scoring or stopping goals.

The preparation for any competition requires an extreme level of dedication. In the weeks leading up to the event, students not only worked hard building the bots from scratch but also learned important technological and real-life skills. Win or lose, each student went home armed with more knowledge, including these five takeaways.

1. Keep it Simple
The “keep it simple stupid” (KISS) principle, a design rule which states that systems perform best when they have simple designs rather than complex ones, often gets ignored when you are working in a group with multiple design ideas. However, the biggest takeaway for the team from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Chicago, was to keep the design simple. “We went through some complicated ideas first and tried to build them. The lesson we have learned is to keep it simple and make something that’s really easy to manufacture,” said team member Pranjal.

2. Collaboration is Key
Just like in the real world, there are more chances of success when multidisciplinary teams work together. Most teams re-iterated the importance of collaboration between mechanical, electrical, and computer engineers when participating in engineering competitions. Last year’s SDC champions “Rebels” from the University of Mississippi focused on the mobility of the robot this year so that it can go in any direction and speed. “Learning Arduino was an issue as we didn’t know coding being mechanical engineers. There was a huge learning curve toward electrical,” said Ryan from the team. “I am a mechanical engineer and I couldn’t do anything without the electrical team,” said Pranjal from the IIT team.

3. Leadership Lessons
“Besides robotics, I personally learned how to be a leader and motivate the team,” said Giovanni Rodriguez of the University of Florida, which finished first in the event, taking home the first prize. “Last year we didn’t perform to our expectations so we came back re-energized. We learned a lot and had a good time,” he added. “I have to tell the pit crew what’s wrong with the robot or what they need to do to make the robot better, so I gain leadership as well as communication skills,” said another member of the Florida team.

4. Knowledge Sharing
For Antonio from the Instituto Tecnólogico de La Laguna, Torreon, Mexico, the best part of E-Fest East SDC was the spirit of knowledge sharing with fellow students. “It’s amazing to see the other robots work and how the engineering community comes together,” said Antonio. “When you come here, you see other people’s perspective and learn from them. It’s hard to work on the robot when you have other things to do as part of the engineering program, but it’s also very inspiring and we are trying to have our university do more competitions like these,” he added.

5. Networking Opportunity
Having the opportunity to interact with like-minded students was the key takeaway for the team that came all the way from the Minghsin University of Science and Technology in Taiwan. “Networking with other teams was a great opportunity,” said Zhi-Min Xu, who is a mechanical engineering student at the university. “We get out of the theoretical school environment and learn to work and network with other teams from different locations,” she said.

Leadership, collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and networking with cross-functional teams are skills that ensure engineering students can hit the ground running when they enter the workforce.

Chitra Sethi is managing editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine.
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