Tank programmers

Sep 22, 2006

Students in Dr. Laura Rust's Electrical Engineering capstone class battled it out in a pint-sized competition for points using retrofitted radio-controlled toy tanks.

"It worked perfectly last week," said Nathan Wilson, of Birch Run, Mich., of his team's tank, "but today we've almost all had problems with gears burning out and other problems during the final testing."

Four student teams in the Electrical Engineering capstone class of Dr. Laura Rust, associate professor of Electrical Engineering, spent weeks modifying toy radio-controlled (RC) tanks to perform specific tasks assigned by Rust. They have spent their college careers developing the skills needed to accomplish the capstone project, required of all Kettering University seniors. Capstone classes are geared for seniors, and bring together all the knowledge a student has acquired in their field of study in one project to test their understanding of that area of engineering.

Rust's capstone project this year involved removing the RC mechanism from a toy tank and modifying the tank for it to run autonomously, completing a search pattern within a defined area. The tanks were required to pick up (rescue) 10 one-inch iron washers scattered across the field of play. For extra credit, the tank could fire pellets at a target.

Three of the four teams had some problems with consistency of performance, according to Wilson. "The mechanical end of the problem (modifying the tanks) ate us alive," said Jennifer Smith, of North Branch, Mich., referring to her team's last minute repair work prior to demonstrating their tank's performance in front of the class.

"Everybody wanted BIG magnets to pick up small washers," commented Rust of the teams' design modifications, "and it burned up their motors."

The motors in the toy tanks weren't originally designed to carry as much weight as was added by the magnets used to pick up the washers. The extra weight put too much strain on the tiny motors during pre-testing, so when it came time for theclass competition all the teams suffered mechanical problems.

Rust provided student teams with the original RC 3-frequency radio controlled Battle Tanks, which gave them a head start on the mechanical aspects of the assignment. The students had to remove the RC components and re-program the tanks. Many added arms and wings to hold the magnets used to sweep up the washers.

Points were awarded for tank motion, the speed of search and rescue of the washers, for the fastest collection of washers, for accomplishing the requirements within eight minutes and hitting the target.

Half way through the team demonstrations students began offering suggestions on how to grade the projects. The most popular suggestion was that the top three performing teams be awarded the equivalent of an A and the fourth team be given and A-. Rust said grades would not be awarded according to class consensus.



Despite the mechanical failure issues, most teams' tanks performed relatively well at picking up washers, and one team was able to retain their cannon to fire pellets at a target (they managed to hit the target).

All teams were happy they didn't have to perform last year's capstone - to create a watertight submarine that performed set tasks under water. Most said they preferred a project on dry land.

Written by Dawn Hibbard