Electrical engineering students at The University of Texas-Pan American are creating the next revolutionary machine - a robot that can detect and extinguish a fire before it rages out of control.
Two groups of students in electrical engineering assistant professor Dr. Mounir Ben Ghalia's senior design project class built two autonomous fire fighting robots that have the potential for protecting families and homes from deadly fires.
Robot designers included Lizbeth Treviño and Antonio Pinon, who created "Luxor the Robot." Alex Rodas and Abner Garza constructed "Johnny Blaze."
The robots were put to the test recently when both machines had the task of moving through a mini-maze and locating and extinguishing a small flame.
The project was sponsored by an Intel Corporation grant and the Robotics and Control Systems Lab at UTPA. Students had two semesters to complete the prototypes.
"It was really a great learning experience because I learned what is involved in the profession of designing robots," said Treviño, who will work for Raytheon after graduating this spring. "It was just interesting to see how this project was done from start to finish."
Treviño and Pinon said the project took more than 10 hours a day, including weekends, to build. Luxor, which consisted of sensors and four individual motors, cost more than $500, and the students admitted the project caused a few headaches.
"The programming was the difficult part of the project, especially trying to get the sensors and all the other components to work together to get a working product," Treviño said.
Johnny Blaze cost about $800. It was a fun experience for Garza and Rodas, who both said they learned about the integration of sensors and codes.
"Basically, what I learned was that it's the little things that can go wrong and cause problems," Garza said. "I also learned that code and applications are a lot harder than they seem."
The robots will remain in the UTPA lab along with the first robot created by three student engineers in 2000: "Mailbot," a wheeled mobile robot designed to deliver office mail.
By keeping the robots on campus, new students will be able to work with and add on features and applications to the mobile machines, Ben Ghalia said.
"It's pretty cool that people will look at Johnny Blaze for further study," Garza said. "I think it's a nice compact design, and it's just unique."
Next year, Ben Ghalia and his students plan to enter the robots in the annual Fire Fighting Home Robot Contest in Connecticut, where they will compete against student engineers from across the nation.