UA Engineering Students Preparing for Robotics Competition

Team members Corey Dean, left, and Matthew O'Brien work with a robot in space provided for the team in Houser Hall.
Team members Corey Dean, left, and Matthew O’Brien work with a robot in space provided for the team in Houser Hall.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A team of eight University of Alabama engineering students will compete in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers SoutheastCon hardware competition April 4-7 in Jacksonville, Fla.

The goal for this year’s competition is to simulate the use of machines in sorting containers in a shipyard port. To accomplish this, the team created a battery-powered robot that is made autonomous by a microcontroller and on-board sensors.

The robot must be small enough to fit inside the one-square-foot starting zone on the competition arena, though it is allowed to unfold into a larger size afterward. The robot must move along the simulation arena, picking up small, randomly assorted vinyl blocks with the gripper attached to its front.

The blocks range in size from 2-4 inches and are color coded. The robot’s gripper, which looks like two outstretched arms, picks the block up and drops it onto a conveyer belt. Afterward, the block is placed on an onboard color sensor. The robot must then maneuver to a different area of the arena and place the block in its proper color-coded area.

“Each robot has 5 minutes to sort, move and place each block in its appropriate location, receiving points for each block correctly sorted and located,” explained Dr. Kenneth Ricks, adviser for the team and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Team members divided responsibility for the robot into eight subsystems – detection, navigation, chassis, power, motors, coding, gripper and unloading.

Each member has a different job on the team. One member ensures power is adequately distributed to each device onboard the robot, another is in charge of detection and is responsible for ensuring the robot can accurately read the colors of each block and zone.

The team member in charge of navigation ensures the robot can steer on its own, another built the robot’s chassis and was responsible for determining each subsystem’s place on the robot, another team member is responsible for transporting the blocks from the robot to the loading zone, another member develops coding for the robot’s software devices while another ensures the motor is capable of exerting enough force to move and stop the robot

Members of the team major in electrical and computer engineering and include:

  • Sarah Betzig, a senior from Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Corey Dean, a senior from Bay Minette
  • Matthew O’Brien, a senior from Lacombe, La.
  • Alexander Bradshaw, a senior from Collierville, Tenn.
  • Boyang Li, a senior from Xiangtan, China
  • Charles McVay a senior from Memphis, Tenn.
  • Jordan B. Miller, a senior from Decatur
  • Kaylan Champion, a senior from Andalusia

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,900 students and more than 110 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Mitchell and Truman scholars.


Adam Jones, engineering public relations, 205/348-6444,; Judah Martin, engineering student writer,