Posted on Nov 17, 2009

The Triads were on a mission to clean up Old Chapel Tuesday afternoon – with a robot. The mess they were tackling, of toy French fries and plastic golf balls posing as dirt, was part of the final design challenge for the team’s introduction to engineering class.

Bessena Cabe '13 and Jeff Ehrlich '13, of The Triads, compete in “Roomba Challenge” November 2009.

Inspired by a self-piloted vacuum called the Roomba, the challenge was to build a machine capable of removing simulated food and dirt from the floors of mock rooms. Using two-by-fours, kitchens and living rooms were laid out in squares on the floor of Old Chapel. 

The Triads’ robot, along with the robots of 30 other teams, was also required to perform a function the real Roomba does not. After collecting the golf balls, the little machines had to be able to dump them in a trash bin.

Many robots were up to the challenge and performed all requirements admirably. The Triads, also known as first-year students Abigail Liss, Jeff Ehrlich and Bessena Cabe, were the masterminds behind one of these successful creations. 

“It was very exciting and mind-blowing, really,” said Cabe, a mechanical engineering major. “To see the robot finished and actually performing the tasks we programmed it for was amazing.”

Liss, who is considering a major in electrical engineering, was equally proud of their achievement, and of what they learned along the way. 

“This was a great project because I discovered so much about something I didn’t have much familiarity with,” she said. “I really enjoyed getting to understand computer programming more.”

Faculty involved with the class and the challenge are happy to be able to present students with this kind of hands-on learning opportunity. 

“They learn valuable teamwork and design skills that are crucial in engineering,” Dean of Engineering Cherrice Traver said. “They also hone communication skills through an oral presentation and written report.”

“Roomba Challenge” in Old Chapel November 2009

Ehrlich, Cabe and Liss have certainly gotten a lot out of putting their heads together.

“This experience was great because we worked so well with each other,” said Ehrlich, who intends to major in mechanical engineering. “We’re The Triads because, if you think of a triangle, it’s a very strong shape. We’re a very strong team.”

Faculty who taught the class this term are Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering James Hedrick, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Bill Keat, Visiting Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Abe Tchako, Visiting Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Sara Hooshangi and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Yu Chang. Hedrick also coordinated the course.