Terri-Jane Yuzda

U of C Sakebots Take to the Olymic Oval

Skating robots are a prime example of how first-year engineering design and communications students apply creativity to problem-solving.

University of Calgary
Student Contributor

Robots On Ice
Dr. Clifton Johnston, P.Eng., and Dr. Daryl Caswell, P.Eng., help out in the robotics lab

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

Robots On Ice
Four solutions to the Skatebot problem

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 methodology.

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 Dr. Caswell.


Dr. Daryl Caswell, P.Eng., at djcaswel@ucalgary.ca
Dr. Clifton Johnston, P.Eng., at johnston@enme.ucalgary.ca


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