RoboJackets Providing Opportunity for Both Competition and Outreach

The origins of Georgia Tech’s RoboJackets organization can be traced back to 1999, when a BattleBots team was founded for the first time within the School of Mechanical Engineering.

Back then, there were just a few members working on projects in their spare time. The school’s focus on co-curricular involvement was not as widespread as it has become today, so members had to be more resourceful in their pursuit of knowledge and competition.

It’s a far cry from what the popular student group has become.

Today, there are over 200 members representing at least nine different degrees, from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, to computational engineering and aerospace engineering, among others.

“It’s become such an active organization,” said RoboJackets president Ryan Strat, a fourth-year computer science major nearing the end of his one-year term. “And our members are dedicated to improving on every facet.”

There are currently five teams within the organization, sub-groups that work and compete in varying capacities. The original team, BattleBots, has maintained a continued presence since the group’s inception nearly two decades ago. There is also RoboCup, a robotic soccer league, RoboRacing, the youngest of the five groups, the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC), and Outreach. It is this latter group, Strat said, that sets the RoboJackets apart from many other organizations across Georgia Tech’s campus.

Outreach

The Outreach team was created in 2001 to fulfill a need the organization felt was being overlooked at the time. Building robots was great, they said, but members felt that they had a valuable skill that should be shared.

Partnering with FIRST Robotics, a partnership that is still growing today, the RoboJackets began a mentorship program for high school teams in the Atlanta area. Teams are invited in once a week to a presentation by the RoboJackets on things they need to be a successful team – how to manage resources, how to recruit team members, sessions on vital subjects like computer vision, for example.

The RoboJackets are currently affiliated with Toaster Tech, a team of high school students in the Atlanta area. Past affiliations include Westlake Roarbotics, Reboot, Tech High School, Georgia Robotics Alliance SOUP, Wheeler High CircuitRunners, and Roswell High Chimera.

“Service is a core component of being an organization, and I think that’s what sets us apart from others on campus,” Strat said. “The fact that it’s a combination of hands-on engineering practicum as well as a public service is very unique. I think that’s what helps us produce such well-rounded students.”

The group maintains a YouTube channel with an archive of learning resources for teens. Recently, for the in-person presentations, they invited some of the high school students to submit their own presentations, assisted them in crafting it, and allowed them to present themselves.

Volunteering at high school competitions and assorted events has been a growing component, as well. The RoboJackets provide highly-skilled volunteers that can handle tasks like officiating and audio/video assistance, among others.

“We have a dedicated base in the state, and RoboJackets is helping to grow that footprint,” Strat said.

The RoboJackets help put on events like the FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff each January, which reveals games and begins to league’s season. The event is held each year at the Ferst Theater and welcomes around 1,400 people to campus. Also, the Robotics Symposium was a new event for Fall 2016 that brought in speakers from various parts of Georgia FIRST and industry partners to give over 30 talks to Georgia middle and high school students.

VIDEO: To see more from the RoboJackets, including both instruction and competition, visit their YouTube channel here.

BattleBots

The BattleBots have long been a pop-culture phenomenon, earning spots on popular television networks as they fight to the death.

The RoboJackets version has been around since 1999 and comprises a number of different facets. There are the small editions, the 3-lb. robots that are relatively inexpensive and can be designed and manufactured within a couple of months.

Newer members of the RoboJackets start here in groups of 4-6 and, working with more experienced mentors, create the BattleBot from scratch.

“It’s an art in many ways,” Strat said. “You have to learn what can actually be manufactured and what can’t. You can make something in any shape on a computer, but that doesn’t mean you can actually make it.”

After the 3-lb. program, members step up in size for other larger competitions. Strat said the team has created robots in the 60- and 120-lb. weight classes.

RoboCup

Originally a project within the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines (IRIM), the RoboCup team is in a small-size league, part of the RoboCup Federation, for robotic soccer competition. The federation is a research group dedicated to building humanoid robotic soccer players capable of beating the World Cup champions by the year 2050.

The league the RoboJackets participate in is 6-on-6, utilizing small wheeled robots about the size of a coffee can.

Currently, the team is focusing on soccer strategy.

“We’re trying to solve the multi-agent problem,” Strat explained. “You have n players on the field – how do you decide who does what? How do you plan things like aggression?”

The RoboJackets team participates in international events, which often take place in the same location as the World Cup. Strat said the team will send 10-11 students in July to Japan to compete. Last year, they competed in Germany.

“It’s one of the more research-focused competitions,” Strat said. “BattleBots is more fun and concerned with winning or losing. This one, everyone competing is writing a research paper, and your prize for winning is another research paper.”

IGVC

The Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition is tasked with the construction of an autonomous robot capable of navigating an off-road obstacle course. Essentially, Strat said, it is an autonomous all-terrain vehicle.

The IGVC is held by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Each year, the RoboJackets send a team to Michigan to compete in mapping and navigation challenges. Given certain GPS waypoints, the vehicles must travel to each location on the course while hauling a payload.

“The robot itself is very similar structurally to an ATV,” Strat said. “It is loaded with a few cameras, and this year we’ll be loading Intel real-sense cameras, which are more or less a Kinect. It’s a depth camera to give more information about where things are.”

Teams are scored on performance in the autonomous challenge, presentation, and the design of the robot.

RoboRacing

RoboRacing is the youngest of the five teams, having been established just four years ago. Despite its youth, it is already one of the most successful of all the RoboJackets’ groups.

It has won gold two of the three years it has competed, sweeping the competition at least once with design awards, circuit racing, and drag racing at the International Autonomous Robot Racing Challenge in Waterloo, Canada.

Last year, they added the Sparkfun Autonomous Vehicle Challenge, which involves the same car but more challenging vision targets. Instead of looking at cones, which are easier to identify, the Sparkfun course is marked with things like chain-linked fences or bales pine straw.

“It’s much more difficult from a computer vision standpoint,” Strat said.

Beyond those competitions, there is also an autonomous Power Wheels racing series.

Yes, Power Wheels – the same small car you drove around in as a toddler is used in a hobbyist community for racing.

“You sit in them as an adult, and it is comical,” Strat said. “That competition is in October. At this point, we’re very much in the design phase.”

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