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Pre-July 2009 Press Archives

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7/12/2002 Fire-fighting robot provides challenge for physics majors

Developing robots to help fight fires is a challenge two Linfield students took on this spring.

The two sophomores combined their creativity and ingenuity, along with compact disks and computer components, to design a robot that slightly resembled the Mars probe.

Clark Patterson, an applied physics major, and Wei Wei, a physics, math and computer science major, were motivated by a desire to gain hands-on robotics experience. Their interest was sparked when they discovered the Trinity College Fire-Fighting Home Robot Contest. And for two months, they worked constantly to design a robot to enter in a qualifying round of the competition in Seattle, Wash.

The contest proved a challenge, requiring that the robot detect a candle, the source of the “fire” and find its way through a house, extinguish the candle and then return to the original starting point.

The Linfield team, which was supported in part by the Linfield Research Institute, was the only college team that competed in Seattle in March. The other entries were designed by professional computer/electrical engineers. Winners of the various qualifiers held around the country participated at the final competition at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., this spring.

Although the Linfield students didn’t qualify for the finals, they learned an enormous amount and plan to enter two robots next year.

“We got to go through the process, starting from scratch, designing, building and testing the robot,” Patterson said. They were also able to have the professionals in Seattle evaluate their robot and gained insight from their comments.

The competition was the first event in the newly formed Linfield Robotics Club which is open to any student interested in participating. Patterson and Wei organized the club and entered the Trinity College competition to gain hands-on experience in robotics design. They hope to apply the knowledge they have learned in physics and computer science classes to real world applications.

Patterson and Wei are already busy planning for next year’s competition. One robot will incorporate the current design and will provide an entry-level platform for new club members to develop. Patterson and Wei plan to design a second robot using almost entirely different components that will be able to meet the level of sophistication that is required to be competitive.