Colorado State University Walking Machine to Defend International Title in Mexico City

Colorado State University’s walking machine team will defend its title at an international competition later this month in Mexico–this time with two computerized walking machines.

The Colorado State team, composed of 10 undergraduate engineering students, has won the Society of Automotive Engineers Robotic Walking Machine Decathlon in seven of the past 10 years. The annual competition, scheduled this year on April 26 and 27 at the Universidad de PanAmerica in Mexico City, challenges undergraduate students from around the world to design the best and fastest walking machines.

The competition will feature 14 teams from the United States, Canada, France and Mexico. Design and construction of the 1997 walking machines began at Colorado State last August, when engineering students applied to become members of the team.

This year’s team, with nine students in mechanical engineering and one in electrical engineering, includes seniors Mathew Miscio and John Murphy, team captains; seniors Vanessa Bates, Jay Greener, Doug Groenewald, Troy Hanson, Mike Padilla and Chris Turner; and sophomores Mathew Cole and Kerrie Thompson. Miscio estimates team members have invested between 30 and 50 hours each week improving the machines’ design and mechanical abilities. The students carry the project from beginning to end, including fund-raising, design, production, assembly and testing.

"The students who are involved in this project are pretty dedicated because we all want to see our team succeed," Miscio said. "The hands-on experience we get creating mechanical devices and testing them in an international competition is invaluable." For the first time, the Colorado State team will enter two walking machines in the decathlon. The first machine, Explorer- III, is a redesigned and rebuilt version of last year’s successful model. The team designed and installed an optical system that enables the machine to see and retrieve objects as well as avoid obstacles.

The second creation–called Spider–is a much smaller and therefore much riskier design. The new walking machine has eight legs and measures about 11 inches tall, 11 inches wide and 20 inches long. It also is navigated by an internal computer program, which uses a laser to check its position on the course each second. The Spider is designed to move up to 36 inches per second, compared with the Explorer-III, which walks 28 inches per second.

"Spider is much riskier because it is so different from past designs," Miscio said. "But we wanted to create something that was smaller, lighter and faster than the larger walking machines typical in competition." The walking machine competes in 10 events, which include running a dash, locating and retrieving a small pebble and returning it to the starting line, walking around a pylon in the center of the course, completing a tire obstacle course, and walking over a hill with an incline of 20 degrees. Teams score points based on how well their robots perform the task, with more difficult tasks earning more points. Machines programmed internally to compete in events on their own score more points than machines operated by remote control.

The walking machines also are judged in four design categories: aesthetics, structural integrity, safety, and start- up and testing. Each team also submits a technical paper and makes a presentation on their models.

"Colorado State has a long tradition of winning this event and we look forward to continuing the tradition," Miscio said. "This is an extremely challenging and fun project for all of the team members involved." Machine parts and financial contributions for the Colorado State team were provided by the College of Engineering, the departments of electrical and mechanical engineering, Woodward Governor, Hanifen Imhoff, Grainger, T.H. Electronics, Gates Rubber and Advanced Circuits.