DeVry University Miramar Campus students at IEEE SoutheastCon

Miramar Students Compete at IEEE SoutheastCon

By DeVry University

Lexington, Kentucky, is perhaps best known as the “Horse Capital of the World” and for its lively bluegrass music. Earlier this year, it was also home to the 2014 IEEE SoutheastCon, a three-day gathering of some of the sharpest minds in engineering, science and technology. The annual conference of IEEE – the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology – promotes all aspects of theory and application of electrical, electronic and computer engineering, bringing together researchers, professionals and even students from the country’s Southeast.

Among the diverse topics explored during this year’s conference workshops, breakout sessions, tutorials and panel discussions was the ever-expanding world of robotics and computer vision – a field near and dear to Professor Antonio Hernandez-Barrera.

That’s why this DVU Miramar College of Engineering & Information Sciences professor devotes time outside the classroom to DeVry South Florida’s Robotics Club. And why when a team of students whose passion for robotics equals his own entered a robotics contest to be held at the 2014 conference, he volunteered to serve as mentor and guide.

A Year in the Making

Competing in an IEEE contest is a big deal. Challenges set forth are highly complex, involving mechanics, electronics, software engineering, mathematics and physics. From brainstorming, to tool research, to problem solution, to design, to build, to test… so many activities are required to meet the challenge head on.

When IEEE announced the 2014 contest rules – a year in advance – the DVU team wasted no time getting started. “Our students began to work as soon as the rules were available...and on their own time,” Hernandez-Barrera said, adding that all efforts put forth to concept and build the robot were done outside of class.

The 2014 uphill battle? For operation on a simulated basketball court, build a robot that could 1) navigate the court following three lines on which randomly positioned shooting blocks had been placed and then 2) from each shooting block, accurately fire a dart at a target affixed to the front edge of the court.


The Main Event

For what arguably could be the field trip of their lives, Computer Engineering Technology students George Munoz and Rashad Armbrister, and Electronics Engineering Technology students Lynn Koesterman and Jonathan Montoya, trekked to Lexington’s Griffin Gate Marriot Resort & Spa with Hernandez-Barrera ready to compete.

Also traveling the 1,000+ miles from Florida to Kentucky was, of course, the team’s awesome robot.

In total, 42 student teams from the region were vying for the win. 

T-minus eight hours and Team DVU was working tirelessly, forgoing sleep before the competition in order to make adjustments and conduct tests to solve for a challenge of the environment: darkness. The robot had been built in the DVU lab, which was much brighter than the exhibit room.

“On the technical side, our robot exhibited great maneuverability skills. The shooting mechanism and point-at-target ability were just amazing,” Hernandez-Barrera said. “The biggest issue was the conference hall’s dim environment, which challenged the machine’s color sensing ability in ambient light.

“All in all, the competition was an extraordinary journey for our students, full of emotion, hard work, teamwork and unforgettable experiences,” Hernandez-Barrera said. “I’m proud of George, Rashad, Lynn and Jonathan, and of Alex Zepeda and Alix Malebranche, two students who helped concept and build our robot but who couldn’t make it to Lexington.”

Not to be outdone by his students, while at the conference Hernandez-Barrera presented a recent paper – Teaching Introduction to Robotics: Using a Blend of Problem- and Project-Based Learning Approaches. “The paper reports my experience in delivering a series of robotics workshops to high schoolers,” he said. “Because robotics is multidisciplinary, teaching it to students with little or no knowledge of the aspects involved is challenging.” Well-received by attendees, the presentation was subsequently published in the proceedings of the IEEE event.

“Kudos to our students for their great showing at the event, which proved to be a tremendous real-world learning experience,” said Julio Torres, group vice president for DVU’s eastern campuses. “And a big ‘thank you’ to Professor Hernandez-Barrera for his passion for helping students achieve their education and career dreams.”