Pixel Tracker

Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 3:47 am | Fair 39º


UCSB Students Engineer Cheese-Seeking Robo Rats

Lego Robo Rats Competition serves as the culmination of a six-week summer course

A nostalgic desire to play with Legos as young adults quickly turned into an all-out drive to out-engineer the craftiest of fellow UC Santa Barbara students.

After all, mechanical engineering seniors Robert Galarza and Tucker Roots did not spend six weeks of their summer developing an autonomous Lego robot to come away empty-handed in the class-wide battle.

On Thursday, their handiwork — along with that of 18 other students — was finally tested during the annual Lego Robo Rats Competition, which has served as the culminating contest to the college course in some form for the past 15 years.

Spectators packed into a small engineering classroom, where some resorted to standing on tabletops to get a better view of the action taking place on a long table in one corner of the room.

Galarza and Roots were up first, placing their “rat” robot made of Legos, DC motors, microcontrollers and sensors into the specifically designed course to compete for blocks of “cheese.”

The rules, essentially, outlined that robots would earn more points collecting the lightweight blocks that dangled from the top of the wooden course and fewer for those lower and closer to them.

Just seconds into the timed battle with another robot, however, the duo’s masterpiece fell into pieces.

Students react to their Lego rat robot picking up more "cheese" than their competitors, thereby scoring more points. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Their competitors cheered joyously, while Galarza and Roots enjoyed the silence of slight defeat.

“There is no way this thing is going to move,” Roots said.

So the competition went, as students were gradually marked off the March Madness-like bracket written on a dry-erase board.

Instructor Casey Hare called the class “a kick,” and said most of the upper-level engineering students who participated had zero experience solving these types of electromechanical problems before taking the class.

Students were clearly interested in the contest’s results, with many yelling, laughing and smiling throughout.

A robot made by Patrick Therrien and Eddie Dorantes eventually won out.

“Get it! Get that cheese!” one participant shouted.

Some visitors to the classroom marveled at the high-energy competition and at the work the undergraduates were able to pull off in just six weeks.

Hare beamed with pride for his students, who were tapping into more than just mechanical-engineering skills.

“The competition is a way to get the students engaged and enthused,” Hare said. “The skills that they’re learning really do translate pretty directly to real things.”

On a nearby table, Galarza and Roots optimistically worked on their robot, which managed to earn 24 points before malfunctioning in the double-elimination tournament.

“It’s intense,” Roots said of the contest. “Everybody has different strategies. We want to learn. Mechanical engineering isn’t just mechanical anymore.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >