UTRGV Robotics team ranked first in Texas at annual Region 5 IEEE competition

Places fourth among high-profile Region Five universities

The UTRGV Robotics team

The UTRGV Robotics team – (from left) students Samuel Roberts of Brownsville, Joshua Acosta of Edinburg, UTRGV electrical engineering professor Dr. Mounir Ben Ghalia, and UTRGV student Salvador Garza of Edinburg – proudly display the robot they built for the annual Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Region Five Robotics Competition, held April 7 in Austin. The UTRGV team ranked first among all Texas university teams, and fourth overall among the 31 teams competing. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

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By Amanda A. Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – APRIL 12, 2018 – The UTRGV Robotics team ranked first among all Texas university teams, during the annual Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Region Five Robotics Competition, held April 7 in Austin.

Of 31 teams competing, UTRGV placed fourth overall, going up against high-profile universities like Louisiana State University, UT Austin, UT Tyler and the University of Houston.

UTRGV Robotics Team members are:

  • Joshua Acosta, of Edinburg, computer engineering major.
  • Samuel Roberts, of Brownsville, electrical engineering major.
  • Salvador Garza, of Edinburg, electrical engineering major.

All team members are seniors slated for graduation in May.

“We created the robot for our senior design project, so that was mandatory,” Roberts said. “But entering into the competition is was what we chose to do as a team.”

Their statewide and regional success marks the first recognition for a UTRGV Robotics team. 

IEEE rules say the robot must be designed to solve a problem. UTRGV’s is an autonomous robot that takes to a playing field to complete set tasks.

The tasks set for the UTRGV robot were to pick up colored tokens at designated points across the playing board, identify the color of the token, and drop collected colored tokens into a matching colored square along the edges of the board.

“The robot stores the tokens within itself, which was a little different from other designs we saw at the competition,” Acosta said. “Most of the other designs would pick up each individual token and take it to the matching square, instead of collecting them all at once.”

The goal of this IEEE competition was to provide a challenge that combines readily understood tasks with simple requirements that steadily increase in complexity in three separate rounds. The project was designed to teach students flexibility in crafting solutions and using creative resources.

“Obviously, there wouldn’t be a practical purpose for a robot to pick up and distribute colored tokens, but it’s more about the principles behind the robotics,” Roberts said. “You could use a robot like this to arrange stock in a warehouse, or autonomously solve a problem and make decisions.”

The team started its project in September 2017, providing reports and presentations for class grades along the way. Built of infrared sensors, color-filtered photo diodes and electromagnets, the robot navigated the playing board by using a control system. Extra elements, such as the sorting mechanism within the robot, sparked from the team’s creativity and garnered attention during competition.
“Their design was unique in the way they built the lifting mechanism, and the tray system that collected the tokens,” said Dr. Mounir Ben Ghalia, professor of Electrical Engineering and undergraduate program coordinator for the UTRGV Department of Electrical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “Faculty and students were coming up to take pictures of it; everyone was very impressed.”

Fueled by their close placement to third, the team hopes to inspire incoming students and has plans to help other UTRGV robotics teams before graduation.

“We’re proud of placing fourth regionally, and we lead all of the Texas teams,” Roberts said. “We learned a lot and enjoyed it. Now it’s up to the next class to get first place and continue where we left off.”

IEEE, an association dedicated to advancing innovation and technological excellence for the benefit of humanity, is the world's largest technical professional society. It is designed to serve professionals involved in all aspects of the electrical, electronic and computing fields and related areas of science and technology that underlie modern civilization.

IEEE's roots go back to 1884 when electricity began to become a major influence in society. There was one major established electrical industry, the telegraph, which since the 1840s had come to connect the world with a data communications system faster than the speed of transportation. The telephone and electric power and light industries had just gotten underway.

The UTRGV Robot

The UTRGV Robot for the annual IEEE Region 5 Robotics Competition (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

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