The students are participating in a robotics conference held by the Association of the Technology, Management and Applied Engineering in Cleveland. It’s the second year JSU’s chapter of that organization has competed at the conference, and this year its members have something to prove.
“Last year we weren’t really up to par with everybody else’s. Me, personally, I just wanted a little redemption,” club president Sam Thompson said. “I just wanted to represent Jacksonville and the state better than I did last year.”
Last year the school’s team represented the university with a robot called Ol’ Jinky. Its rudimentary components and wooden parts elicited taunts from the other teams, Thompson said.
“Some of the other schools kind of ragged us,” Thompson said. “Some of their bots were just amazing. They looked like they were professionally made.”
The team learned from its experience and this year it’s going back with a better “bot,” Ol’ Jinky Jr.
The computerized robot comprises several circuit boards, a wireless router and a battery. It rests atop a four-wheeled frame and is outfitted with a laptop, a computer camera and a fiberglass frame.
Each component, including the circuit boards (like the small green-wired electronic cards one would find inside a computer or cell phone), was made by the students. One of the students, Alex Zenanko, the club’s vice president, also crafted software to ensure the robot can operate on its own.
The software gives the robot the ability to identify colors, shapes and even faces — an important talent given that the competition’s outcome hinges on how efficiently the robot can identify and sort colored table-tennis balls.
It can be programmed remotely from a desktop computer.
“This thing can usually drive itself around like a little Indy car,” Zenanko said.
The black frame is set off by a red JSU emblem crafted by David Georgeson, secretary. He spent hours using advanced tools to design the marker, which gives the bot a more professional appearance.
“We’re still not on that (professional) level, but ours can do what (the robots) are supposed to, just as much as any of them,” Thompson said.
For the club members, the competition is only a part of the project. Of greater value is the experience gained in practicing applied mechanics, they said.
“It’s a lot of hands-on (which is) what I like doing and you learn only so much through your learning in the classroom,” Georgeson said. “When I’m out here, you get to put what I’ve learned to use.”
The skills they’re learning in their respective programs and through their work on the robot will prepare the students for work in industrial programming and manufacturing or in electronic design.
Crafting the robot was a tedious task. The team spent more than a year trying to perfect it, yet its work won’t be done until the competition is over. The robotic conference began Wednesday and ends Friday.
As late as Tuesday afternoon, the team was troubleshooting, which is part of the process. If one thing goes wrong, the robot can malfunction.
“We still have a million little things to work out,” Zenanko said.
They’ll be perfecting Jinky Jr. till the competition is complete, members said. Friday is when their robot will be placed before a crowd of competitors in a 10-foot ring and tested. The pressure will be on, they said.
“We all have so many hours in it and we just have one shot,” Zenanko said.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544.