What could be considered as nothing more than a rudimentary Saturday chore served as a pinnacle of glory for a group of UF engineering students last week as their autonomous robot, InstiGator, won first place in the basic division at the ION Robotic Lawn Mower Competition.
The robot, which cuts grass without any human direction, mowed 76 percent of the grass in a roughly 20-square-foot rectangle without hitting a trashcan that was randomly placed in the grass. The second-place team only cut 51 percent of the grass.
Eric Schwartz, a UF engineering professor and project adviser, said the team's experience made the difference this year as the team members were able to anticipate what might go wrong and try to prevent them.
"Some of them we figured out the night before," Schwartz said.
The team, however, did encounter some last-minute difficulties as the motor blew up a few days before the competition.
Instead of folding up shop, the team found a wheelchair at Goodwill, bought it and replaced the motor.
This year's team included senior computer engineering major Camilo Buscaron, senior computer engineering major Colin Watson, senior electrical engineering major Mike Franks and mechanical engineering graduate student Andres Vargas.
Schwartz said the team built everything on InstiGator except for the lawn mower engine, batteries and the motor and wheels taken from a wheelchair.
The robot has sonar, a compass and a lever to adjust the height according to the grass.
Next year, the team plans to move up to the advanced division.
Instead of mowing around a static trashcan, advanced-team robots have to mow around a picket fence, a flowerbed and a moving mechanical dog.