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Students test skills in robot project

Jenny Bonham demonstrating robot

Fourth-year mechanical engineering student Jenny Bonham takes a turn at demonstrating her team’s self-balancing robot.

About 50 students working on an engineering capstone project had to apply all the key principles they’ve learned over the past several years at UVic to develop self-balancing robotic vehicles.

The fourth-year mechanical engineering students worked in small groups to develop the autonomous vehicles. But getting the devices to work required a solid understanding in areas such as mechanical design, control systems, microcontrollers, sensors, dynamics, statics and engineering drawings.

“The students needed to exercise every aspect of their education in order to solve this one seemingly simple problem and to be able to demonstrate it,” said instructor Alison Proctor.

Colin Bradley, the professor who oversees the course, said he took a different approach to this capstone, with all students working on the same engineering problem. It was up to student teams to determine roles, responsibilities and the best allocation of resources.

“The students adapted really quickly and I think it’s gone exceptionally well,” said Colin. “This project was similar to what often happens when you’re working in industry – you have to collaborate online with team members in different locations.”

Playing to their strengths

During an online session, each team presented its vehicle, describing its construction, what went well and what was most challenging. Colin, Alison and the other teaching assistants were clearly impressed with the students’ work, while the students themselves spoke highly of the experience.

“I think our past on-the-job co-op experiences gave our group a familiarity with project management that really helped the capstone project go smoothly,” said student Jenny Bonham. “Within the group, we played to our strengths and taught each other along the way.”

Jenny's team split up the project’s various tasks, taking turns at leading and delegating the other team members.

“The instructors took the role of a client during the weekly meetings, which allowed us to develop business relations skills, such as identifying and defining the problem, presenting our progress and demonstrating the final product,” she said.

Natasha Stefani’s team took a similar approach, which proved very successful.

“It was great to work with a team with such varying experiences – from people with extensive hands-on experience to people with strong theoretical math backgrounds,” said Natasha. “The diversity within our team was its greatest strength and allowed for meaningful discussions about the project and for many design alternatives to be thoroughly examined.”

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