Trine football robots compete in Decathlon

April 24, 2024

VALPARAISO, Ind. — It wound up being more of an exhibition than a competition, but Trine University’s robotic football team still got to show off its moves.

The team, made up of Christopher Ferguson, a software engineering major from Defiance, Ohio, GraceeMae Keasler, a mechanical engineering major from Defiance, Ohio, Nathaniel Unsicker, a mechanical engineering major from Woodridge, Illinois, and Elliot Wannemacher, a computer engineering major from Defiance, Ohio, developed three machines to compete in the Decathlon event that was part of the 11th annual Collegiate Robotic Football Conference (CRFC) National Championship Tournament, held April 13 at Valparaiso University .

Unique drivetrain

Ferguson said the current team is the fourth iteration of Trine football robots.

“We have made small improvements over each iteration, which has allowed us to slowly work out the bugs in our designs and learn along the way,” he said.

He said having a team made up of even numbers of students from different engineering disciplines allowed each group to “focus on our strengths, rather than the ECEs needing to do CAD and the MEs needing to code.”

“Some of our robots have a unique drivetrain compared to the robots used by other schools. We had to solve a few major challenges in order to allow us to use this different system,” said Ferguson. “The first challenge was designing a small enough version of the mechanism to fit within the size constraints imposed by the conference. The other main challenge was writing the software to control the more complicated mechanism. We overcame these challenges through many hours of Googling and a lot of trial and error.”

Trine robots competed in the Speed Test, Three-Cone Drill, Strength Test, Distance Run, Shuttle Run, Kickoff Recovery, Moguls, Stop Test and Tackle Test/QB Accuracy.

However, the robots were on their own, as the other team scheduled to compete in the Decathlon did not show.

“Decathlon is new, and is intended as an on-ramp to the League,” said Sean Carroll, Ph.D., who served as faculty advisor for the team.

‘They are in a good place’

Despite lacking competition, the Trine team did manage to raise some eyebrows.

“The officials were interested in and impressed by the new tech that Christopher introduced for the ‘Swerve’ robots that use two motors per wheel,” said Carroll.

“Overall, the robots met my expectations in the decathlon,” Ferguson said. “There is still some work that could be done in software to allow them to be safely driven more aggressively, but overall, they are in a good place and are working well.”

“So far. the club has been mainly focused on research and development, with less of a focus on actually competing. Now that most of the development work is done, the club should be able to put more of a focus on the competitions themselves.”

“I have been involved in the robotic football team since its inception at Trine and the football-playing robots students have made are just amazing,” said Sameer Sharma, Ph.D., chair of Trine’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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