Fall 2010



The ME2011 robot is a major design project where you design and construct a computer-controlled machine. Your robot will be built partially from components supplied by us, but mostly from found materials which you procure on your own. Your robot must meet the design requirements listed below. You will deliver a working robot for public presentation at the Robot Show starting at 2:40 PM on the day listed in the course schedule. Robots will be evaluated by judges who have a wide range of experiences in design and engineering. There are no extensions and no excuses. You   must   deliver yourself and a robot to the show. If you don't, you will most likely fail the course. If you do, you will be guaranteed a good time.

The Robot Show

All robots will be presented in a spectacular show at the place and time listed on the course schedule. You MUST arrive on time. Even better, arrive ahead of time if you think you will need some last-minute breathing room to get your machine going. We invite the press and campus dignitaries so we want to make sure every machine works. Invite your family and friends. All are welcome. This is a fun, public event. We need a large turnout!

What Your Robot Must Do

After pushing the start button, your machine must do something interesting for a period of time after which it must complete its actions and be ready to do the same thing all over again. The definition of "something interesting" is entirely up to you, but at a minimum it must involve some kind of motion which can be seen from a reasonable distance. Along with motion, your machine may emit sound, light, or anything else you deem appropriate to include in your machine's behavior. It is up to you whether your machine does something useful, or whether it exists solely to amuse, delight or otherwise amaze the audience. You machine must do its thing without any human intervention other than pushing the start button.

Design Requirements

  1. Must fit in a 34 in. wide by 28 in. deep footprint. From that footprint, it can go up to the ceiling (about 20 ft high) if you wish, but not out. There will be other robots immediately behind and on either side of yours, and people in front. Design your robot to sit on a table with you standing in front of the table with no access to the side or rear of the table. Design your robot so that no part of it hangs over the table or sticks out into the aisle.
  2. Must act for no less than 30 seconds and for no more than 60 seconds.
  3. Neither you nor anyone else can touch nor interact with your machine during operation. In other words, it's a completely hands off operation. You push the start button, then stand back and enjoy watching your creation do its thing.
  4. At least one of the machine's actions must be easily visible from 10 ft. away.
  5. Must be resetable for the next run in 60 seconds or less. Human intervention is permitted during the reset period.
  6. Must work every time (50 cycles is a good target).
  7. Must have at least one part that moves.
  8. Must be completely self-contained, including power sources.
  9. Only batteries can be used as sources of electrical energy. Nothing can connect to the 110V power line.
  10. Must be safe for operators and audience. Fire, chemical energy (including fuels), explosives, highly compressed gas or similar energy forms not permitted.
  11. Must not touch or harm other robots or people.
  12. Must not damage any component loaned to you by us.
  13. Must not damage any part of the room in which it is placed.
  14. If liquids are part of the robot, must have no more than 4 liters of liquids.
  15. No violence, no sex, no obscenities, no alcohol-based themes, no racial or other slurs. Keep it G rated.
  16. No live or dead animals.
  17. When the show is complete, you must be able to remove your robot and clean the surrounding area so that it looks just the same as it did when you arrived.
  18. Must follow the specifications listed in the "Robot Trigger Specifications" section of this document for powerup and start behavior.
  19. Must use the Arduino board for machine control.
  20. Total cost of all components purchased or added by you, beyond what we gave and loaned you, must be no more than $40.

Documentation Deliverables

At the show you must have your sketchbook and must have the following professional looking documents in your portfolio:
  1. A single "how it works" sheet (8.5 by 11 in. standard white paper) which describes in text and graphics what your robot does and how it works. Center the title (the name of your machine) at the top, large and bold (24 point if using a computer). Place your name and date (smaller font) below the title. ut your name somewhere near the top as well. Next comes a careful hand sketch sketch or a CAD redering of your machine. Below the sketch, write no more than 200 words which detail exactly what your machine does how it works, and any interesting features or behaviors it has. Be clear, succinct and professional. Use computer-generated text, no hand lettering.
  2. A color photograph that shows the completed machine. Print on plain 8.5x11 paper and enlage to fill the page with a margin of around 1.5 in. Pay attention to viewpoint, background and lighting when taking the photo. Show your machine to its best advantage.
  3. (Optional) A CAD rendering of your machine. This is not required, but if present is evidence of your ability to use CAD for a design.
  4. A bill of materials (BOM) in table form which lists all components, one component per line. The columns of the table should be quantity, description, source (where you got it), model or part number (where appropriate) and cost. Under description, be complete. Putting "Resistor" is not enough; instead you should put "Resistor, 330 ohm, 1/4W". BOM should include everything: wood, screws, metal scraps, tape.... Think of the BOM as the parts list which has everything needed to build a duplicate robot from scratch. If you got materials out of a dumpster or your garage, for source list "dumpster" or "garage". Even these should have a cost. Include the parts and supplies provided by the course, but for those, put "ME2011 kit" in the source column and "NC" (no cost) in the cost column. At the bottom of the BOM, list total parts count and total cost. Neatly format in a table using a spreadsheet or word processor and print out on a single page.
  5. A one-page, neatly formatted electronics schematic showing machine circuitry. Schematic must be drawn using a computer schematic drawing package.
  6. A listing of the Arduino computer code. If the code is long, print in "2-up" format (2 pages per side) to save some trees.
  7. (Optional) Create a 60 second (no longer) video of your robot operating and post on YouTube. In the video name, include "UMN ME2011 Robot 2010" as well as your last name so that a search will easily find your robot. The video will be helpful in case graders did not see your machine operate at the show.

Provided Components

You will receive parts in your Robot Kit that are on loan for you to use in your robot. These parts must be returned with your Kit at the end of the course (see schedule for return date). The loaner parts include the following.

Quantity Description
1 Battery, 12V, NiCd or SLA
1 Gearmotor, 12V
1 Small DC motor
1 Microswitch

In addition to the loaner parts in the Robot Kit, you have the following components from your ME2011 Tool Kit that you can use in your robot and not count against the cost.

Quantity Description
1 Start pushbutton, tactile
2TIP120 power transistor
2 2N3904 signal transistor
2 Red LED
10 each Resistors, 1/4 W: 330, 1K, 10K ohms
2 9 V battery snap
25 ft. Hook up wire, 22g, yellow

Pricing Purchased Components

Components that you purchase for your robot must be priced according to the following guidelines. If you purchase a part for your machine, the cost is the purchase cost. If you buy a radio for $1.00 at a garage sale and use one part out of it, the cost of that part is $1.00. If you use 10 parts from it, the cost for those 10 parts is $1.00. If you use a part out of your house or borrowed from a friend, estimate a fair price (retail or E-Bay or garage sale, whichever is more appropriate). For the purposes of this project, set the cost of metal (any alloy) and wood stock at $0.25/pound. In your cost allotment, you do not have to include the cost of parts that are loaned to you by the course or the parts in your ME2011 Tool Kit, but you do have to list those components on your BOM. We hope that you understand the spirit of these guidelines and won't obsess over pennies.

Robot Support Group

You will be teamed with 3 to 6 other classmates in your section to form a robot support group. During sections, you will have opportunities to meet with your support group to trade ideas and solve problems. Your goal is to guarantee that all members in your support group, including yourself and the weakest member of the group, have high quality robots.

Intermediate Deadlines

There will be several intermediate deadlines as the project proceeds. These include submission of (1) several concept ideas, (2) final concept, (3) preliminary schematic, (4) preliminary code listing, (5) working subsystem, (6) working robot. Dates and details are on the course schedule.

Robot Evaluation

Evaluation Criteria
Code Category Description Points
Ra Works Does the machine run every time? 30
Rb Meets constraints Does the machine meet all the design requirements? 20
Rc Construction How much care was taken in construction? Is it a quality job? Does the construction suggest a reliable machine? 20
Rd Sophistication How sophisticated is the machine in its design? For example, does it use a clever mechanism to achieve its motion, or does it use something beyond basic circuitry or simple programming? 10
Re Creativity, interest and presentation Does the robot do "something interesting"? Is the idea original? What's the level of professionalism and audience impact? 10
Rf Documentation Quality of required documentation. 10
R101 ROBOT SCORE = sum(Ra thru Rf), total possible points = 100
Bonus Points
R102 Judges and staff favorites Judges and staff have the discretion to identify those few robots they think are exceptional. Only a few robots will get any of these bonus points and hardly any will get them all. 10
Your robot will receive a 0 if it is not at the show. No exceptions.

Your robot will be evaluated by a team of judges at the show and a significant fraction of your overall score for the project will be derived from the average of the scores given to you by the judges. The judges are faculty from Mechanical Engineering, faculty from other departments, graduate students in Mechanical Engineering, engineering and design professionals from industry, and other special guests. Judges will travel in teams of three and will be recording their ratings on a standard scoring sheet which will be posted on the course web site sometime before the show. Judges will also be evaluating your design notebook to see if it was used during the design and development of your robot. In addition to evaluation by judges, several attributes of your robot will be assessed by the course staff immediately following the show based upon the documentation of your robot as presented in your documentation deliverables. Staff scores will be blended in with judge scores to give you an overall score in each of the categories.

Robot Startup Specifications

Your robot must have this behavior at power up. No exceptions.

Startup Behavior

On power-up (plugging in the battery), a red LED flashes 1/4 sec. on, 3/4 sec. off. This is the indication that the machine is alive and ready to start. A light like this is called a watchdog indicator. Upon pushing the start button, the LED stops flashing and robot commences to do its thing. When done, the robot returns to the flash state, ready for another button push to start again. The watchdog LED may be used for additional functions while your robot is running.


  1. Control a red LED from digital pin 2 of your Arduino using the standard hookup. Use a 330 ohm resistor to make sure your LED is bright. Place the LED on your robot in a position where it can be seen easily by jury members.
  2. Wire a pushbutton switch to digital pin 3 of your Arduino using the same circuit you used for the Motor/LED/Switch assignment. Use a 10K resistor (which we provide) and either the pushbutton switch from your ME2011 Tool Kit, or a reliable pushbutton switch of your choosing. This will be the start button for your robot. Place the start button where you can push it easily. It does not matter which wire goes to which terminal of the switch.
  3. If for whatever reason you can't use digital pins 2 and 3 for the LED and switch, you are free to use any other pin.


Here is startup code you can use. Change the title, author initials, and the input/output commands to suit your machine. Note that the on and off times for the LED are implemented as loops with small delays (for example, the on time loop is 10 cycles of 25 msec pauses for a total of 250 msec on) so that the start button gets checked every 25 msec. This prevents any delays in detecting a start push. Change or add additional comments as needed. See the Arduino manual or a classmate or a course staff member if you need help with this program stub.
  My program. (06-dec-09)

    // constants
#define WATCHLED 2           // LED is pin 2
#define STARTBUTTON 3   // start button is pin 3

    // variables
int i;

void setup()   // run once, when program starts
  pinMode(WATCHLED, OUTPUT);  // sets the LED pin as output
  pinMode(STARTBUTTON,INPUT); // sets the button pin as input

void loop()
//-------------Watchdog code
  while (true) {
    digitalWrite(WATCHLED,HIGH);      // LED on
    for(i=0;i<10;i++) {
      delay(25);                      // wait a bit
      if (digitalRead(STARTBUTTON) == LOW)  // check button
        goto robotcode;               // bail if pressed
    digitalWrite(WATCHLED,LOW);       // LED off
    for(i=0;i<30;i++) {
      if (digitalRead(STARTBUTTON) == LOW)
        goto robotcode;

//-------------Robot code
  digitalWrite(WATCHLED,LOW);   // LED off

       //--insert your code here...

} // return to top


  1. Read everything on the ME2011 Robot Project web site, including the FAQ (frequently asked questions) list! Many of your questions will be answered there. Visit the robot site often; it will be updated frequently as questions come up during the project.
  2. Avoid robots that do nothing other than spin and flash, no matter how well you can make them look pretty. This is an engineering course, not a decorating course. A well engineered mechanism will get you a much higher grade than a pretty wrapper.
  3. Robots that exhibit some kind of interesting behavior (e.g. they have one or more sensors) or robots that perform some kind of task (not necessarily useful) are encouraged.
  4. Robots based on engineering or physics principles are encouraged.
  5. Ensure that your robot works reliably and consistently starting from battery plug-in. The show is no place to discover that your program gets lost on power up. To be safe, bring a spare battery and a soft copy of your program (although we can't guarantee a PC will be available at the show).
  6. Planning is everything. Make yourself a schedule with some critical milestones (deadlines), and stick to it. Milestones might include "Select concept", "Complete detailed design", "Finish construction of first prototype", or any other key planning targets you wish to highlight.
  7. You might be considering a robot with multiple moving axes. We recommend that you get one axis with one motor working perfectly before going on to the next. That way if you fall behind, you will still have a working machine for the show.
  8. Reliability is everything. For a rehearsal, run your machine 10 times, disconnect and reconnect the battery, then run it five more times. If everything goes smoothly, you have a reasonable chance of success at the show.
  9. Liquids are problematic. They are hard to transport hard to hold without leaks and hard to replenish. If you MUST use liquids (it's not recommended, but not forbidden either), use colored water only. Water is not sticky (like pop) and will not smell when old (like milk). Also, see the design rules for the maximum amount of liquid allowed. Instead of liquid, try pouring something granular like small marbles, pebbles, chopped nuts...... Remember that after the show is over, you must completely clean any mess you make.
  10. Your machine can have consumables (e.g. materials that are used, including batteries, or parts that are broken during each operation). Remember that your machine might have to operate up to 50 times at the show. The cost of replacing the consumables is not counted against your bill of materials cost, but the cost of the first instance of the consumable is. Note that if your machine is going to scatter stuff (e.g. confetti), bring a dustpan and brush so you can clean your area before you leave. (And, make sure it only scatter stuff in your area, not your neighbors!)
  11. Make your robot eye-catching while still demonstrating good engineering.
  12. You will be standing in front of the table where your robot is located and there will be no access from the side or from behind.
  13. Interesting robots often have some part of their operation which responds to a sensor (switch, light,....) so consider adding a sensor-based activity. This need not be complex. For example, something hitting a switch which causes the computer to trigger some other kind of action makes a fine sensor-based robot.
  14. Successful robots have no correlation to the amount of money spent. Many excellent robots have been built by spending zero or just a few dollars. You would be amazed what you can find in a dumpster or by asking for discards at a store or by rumaging around a junkyard or construction site.
  15. Build with materials and processes that you are familiar with.
  16. The keys to this project are simplicity, aiming for what you can actually build, and keeping costs low.
  17. Effects which rely on sound or music are problematic. The show will be noisy and loud machines tend to be obnoxious. Having your machine make sounds is fine, so long as they are not too loud.
  18. LED's are not particularly bright so use something else if you want flashing that has impact. See the robot project site for suggestions.
  19. Avoid messy things like eggs unless you have a process for cleaning up after each run. On the other hand, eggs could be pretty cool....
  20. Make your structure rigid and transportable. A base plate is good for anchoring parts of your structure which might otherwise slide along the table.
  21. Watch out for elements that suck current and are on for a long time. For example, an electromagnet which is on for more than a few seconds will rapidly drain your battery.
  22. Think carefully about the routing of wires leading to parts of your machine that move.
  23. There will be an in-house Robot Store where you can purchase electronic and mechanical components that would be difficult to find elsewhere. Details will come later.
  24. Make your robot portable. You will have to lug it to the show and will have to lug most or all of it to section the week before the show.
  25. Make the inside of your robot easily accessible so that you can show off the innards to interested jury members who might be impressed by your careful fabrication methods.
  26. Plan, plan, plan!
  27. Ask, ask, ask!

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