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January 16, 2003

EE prof’s students take part in TV robot building competition

Three of electrical engineering assistant research professor Linda Bushnell’s students will travel to Tennessee next week to test their robot design and building prowess on the new cable television show Robot Rivals.

The team — Tho Nguyen, electrical engineering and applied math; Jon Gosting, electrical engineering; and Justin Wahlborg, mechanical engineering — will face off against a team from Purdue on Monday, Jan. 20. Working under an eight-hour deadline, the students will cobble together their creations, which must perform a specified task, using tools and parts supplied by the show and the advice of an outside expert. The UW trio’s assigned expert is a NASA robotics professional named Buzz — perhaps a fitting match since their first task is to build a “Paul Bunyan robo-logger” that can locate trees, cut them down and haul them to a loading wagon.

If their robo-logger out-chops the one designed by Purdue, the UW group will advance to a Wednesday match against the winner of a contest between the University of Utah and Clemson University. There, they will be tasked with building a lunar rover that can negotiate various rough terrains, without the use of wheels. The winner of that match will advance to the finals, scheduled for April.

“I’d say their chances for success are high,” said Bushnell, who had all three in a robotics class last quarter. “They work very well together, they know how to build robots and they know how to program them to be autonomous.”

Robot Rivals is a new show on the Do It Yourself Network, a sister cable channel to HGTV and the Food Network. The show is scheduled to air in April.