Skating robots are a prime example of how first-year engineering
design and communications students apply creativity to problem-solving.
BY MARY GRACE DE GUZMAN
University of Calgary
The Olympic Oval in Calgary is notorious for hosting some
of the world's finest speed skaters. It's a place where hard
work and dedication can finally prevail in athletic competition.
This time, however, the competitors were of a different sort.
Sure, if you came upon the oval on March 16, it was evident
that hours of hard work and dedication were being put to the
test. Yet those obviously weren't speed skaters lining up
on the mark, getting set and then racing.
Watch out Catriona Le May Doan. Zipping down the ice that
day were our first-year engineering students' very own Skatebots.
The 'bots were constructed mainly from high-tech Lego pieces,
which include electric motors, programmable logic controllers
and other Lego Mindstorm kit pieces. The power of ingenuity
manifested itself in the students' designs and fabrication.
The Skatebots met the ice as another demonstration of the
fundamental concepts that the first-year engineering design
and communications course has been successfully promoting
in its students.
Professors and developers of the new full-year course, Dr.
Daryl Caswell, P.Eng., and Dr. Clifton Johnston, P.Eng., stress
the importance of flexible thinking. The course is focused
on inquiry-based teaching and learning. The process of searching
for a solution, rather than the solution itself, matters most.
First-year student Anna Hill puts it this way: "They
give us open-ended problems and make us decide for ourselves
what the best solution is. It's not like our other courses
where there is only one right answer."
Deciding on the "best" solution is not only difficult
for students but is also a realistic engineering design issue.
Therefore, Dr. Caswell and Dr. Johnston introduce the more
than 600 first-year students early on to the concept of design
More specifically, students are taught familiarization (understanding
customer requirements), functionality, and testing (quantifiable
verification of specifications) of the project to better enable
them to evaluate their own ideas. In an industry that heavily
relies on the concreteness of empirical calculations and data,
invaluable tools of creativity and project management are
also harnessed to come up with awe-inspiring designs such
as the Skatebots.
"A good idea is only as good as you can communicate it,"
Dr. Johnston reminds us. As such, visual literacy and technical
writing are also important components to the course. Incorporated
into the art of oral presentations are the skills of computer-aided
design and manufacture.
Another characteristic of the course is the almost intrinsic
integration of knowledge from various faculties around campus.
Success can be attributed to the cooperation and collaborative
efforts of graduate student coaches and professors from faculties
such as art, kinesiology and engineering.
As a team, the faculties have provided the students with a
broader scope for design - and a tremendous asset for their
entire engineering careers.
"We are so thrilled to see what our students can do.
They seem to be able to make order out of chaos," says
CALL OUT BOX
Questions on First -Year Design and Communications?
Dr. Daryl Caswell, P.Eng., at email@example.com
Dr. Clifton Johnston, P.Eng., at firstname.lastname@example.org
Robots On Ice
(Top, from left) Dr. Clifton Johnston, P.Eng., and Dr. Daryl
Caswell, P.Eng., help out in the robotics lab; and four solutions
to the Skatebot problem.