MU Mobile Robotics Team Wins 5 National Awards, Putting Total at 40!

By: Dr. John Haughery

The Association of Technology, Management and Applied Engineering (ATMAE) held its annual national Student Division Robotics Competition (SDRC) in Orlando, FL this past November 3rd – 5th. Six collegiate robotics teams across the nation competed, including Millersville University’s ATMAE Student Organization team (i.e., the MU Mobile Robotics Team). Each team competed with a robot that navigated either autonomously, teleoperated, or hybrid. The MU Mobile Robotics Teams chose a fully autonomous design and placed 3rd overall in the competition!

MU Mobile Robotics Team and SDRS-12 head judge, Joshua Stevens (far left); Team (left to right) John Haughery (advisor), Benjamin Wright, Justin Vipperman, Dennis Nguywen, Joshua Greineder, Liz Maschke, Benjamin Ambler, Peter Marinelli, Ian Smith, Ryan Martin, Robert Keisel, and John Wright, Jr. (advisor).

The competition required robots to deliver nine containers of various weights (three barrels, three crates, and three spheres) from the storage racks to three specific locations within the course (8’ x 8’). Each teams’ robot had a maximum of three minutes to complete the objectives listed above per round with each successful objective completed being awarded Task Challenge points. Furthermore, each teams’ robot had to be designed to fit into an 18” x 18” x 18” room before its three-minute competition run.

The ATMAE SDRC-21 awarded points to teams based on four categories (see Table 1). Teams were ranked within each category as well as overall based on a combination of points across categories. Additionally, a People’s Choice Award and Best in Tag was given to the crowd favorite, based on total number of votes at the competition.

Table 1. ATMAE Warehouse 4.1 points categories.

Competition Elements Max Points (Auto-Op) Max Points (Tele-Op)
Task Challenge 123 60
Electrical/Controls Design 50 50
Manufacturing Design 50 50
Technical Poster Design 50 50
Total 273 210

The MU Mobile Robotics Team designed, developed, and tested…redesigned, redeveloped, and retested a fully autonomous robot, T.U.R.T.L.L.E, for ATMAE SDRC-21. The build was completed over a two-month process, with the majority occurring over the last 6 weeks. T.U.R.T.L.L.E (Transport Utilizing Robotic Technology to Locate and Lift Entities) was able to traverse the warehouse course 100% autonomously, identify objects (e.g., crates) using machine vision, shape, and color recognition algorithms, and active compliance to dynamically center itself using pulse-width modulation (PWM) motor speed controls and infrared (IR) distance sensors to navigate and retrieve objects. The MU Mobile Robotics Team’s T.U.R.T.L.L.E was the only fully autonomous robot to compete in the competition. This was a significant achievement given the extremely short project timeline the team had, as students were not permitted to meet in person during the spring 2021 semester due to COVID-19 health safety protocols in place at Millersville University.

MU Mobile Robotics Team’s T.U.R.T.L.L.E autonomously navigating to the object retrieval area during a competition run

During each of T.U.R.T.L.L.E’s three competition runs, it was able to reach the retrieval area and identified the objects autonomously. On its first run, it almost succeeded in lifting an object (crate) off the storage self but failed due to time expiring. On its second run, it identified the objects but did not have the correct alignment. On its third run, it identified the objects but did not have the space to realigned to setup and pick the object before time expired.

Even without successfully picking and placing an object, the team achieved a very level of engineering complexity and sophistication in their design of T.U.R.T.L.L.E. The object detection via machine vision, shape, and color recognition was head-and-shoulders above the competition. While this controls scheme did not fare as well as the other teams’ robots, which used human control to pick and place objects, it underscored the significant challenges that exist in replicating a human’s ability to control a mechanism vs. a mechanism’s ability to learn from its environment and adjust its control (i.e., machine learning). Replicating a human’s analytical abilities is one of the hardest design challenges we have. The MU Mobile Robotics Team should be applauded for their courage to attack this challenge head on, without compromising!

Quick Relaxation before the competition starts (Ian Smith and Liz Maschke)

In total, the MU Mobile Robotics Team brought home five 1st – 3rd place awards from Orlando. This outing brings the team’s historical record of 1st – 3rd national awards to 40 (six national championships)! A big congratulations to everyone on the team and their successful T.U.R.T.L.L.E. bot!!!

Competition awards:

  • 3rd Place Overall (5/273 possible points)
  • Best Manufacturing Design (based on sophistication, innovation, soundness, craftmanship, and documentation)
  • 2nd Place Electrical/Controls Design (based on sophistication, innovation, soundness, craftmanship, and documentation)
  • 2nd Place Technical Poster Design (based on communication, visual and technical design, and accuracy)
  • People’s Choice Award

Additionally, the MU Mobile Robotics Team, Student Government Association, Student Grants for Research and Creative Activity, and the Noonan Endowment Award at Millersville University sponsored the four students to present technical presentations of their scholarly research at the ATMAE Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. These students and their presentations included,

  • Keisel, R., Haughery, J. R., Pelcin, K. Augmenting Automated Manufacturing Systems via Human-Machine Interfaces. 2021 ATMAE Annual Conference, Orlando FL.
  • Martin, R., Wright, J. R., Smith, I. Design, Development, and Implementation of a Complex Stacking/Unstacking Industrial Robotic Application. 2021 ATMAE Annual Conference, Orlando FL.
  • Lefever, C., Haughery, J. R. Impacts of Automation: Manufacturing Jobs in the United States. Proceedings of the ATMAE 2021 Annual Conference, Orlando FL.

For more information, readers can contact the MU Mobile Robotics Team advisors, John R. Haughery or John R. Wright, Jr. A video of T.U.R.T.L.L.E.’s build can be viewed at