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MSU engineering and physics students developed “Murr-E”

Autonomous robot that can sort beverage products


 MURRAY, Ky. – The task seemed simple enough — design a robot that could pick up and sort three different Coke beverage products: glass bottles, plastic bottles and metal cans. That was the problem posed for the 2009 Southeast Robotics Competition. 

For the first time, a group of six Murray State University engineering physics students decided to compete in the regional robotics competition organized by International Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and hosted by Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga.

The students developed an autonomous robot that could seek, collect and sort aluminum cans and glass and plastic bottles. The robot consists of a main computer board, a microcontroller to control the motors for robot movement, a camera and a mechanical sorting mechanism.

The camera mounted to the front of the robot scans the playing area and locates the objects. Once an object is located, the robot positions itself to pick up the item. A front-mounted arm picks up the object and pivots to lift it and place it in the container.

Once placed in the container, each object was sorted mechanically based on its properties. Designing and building the robot required extensive knowledge of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer programming, optics and algorithm development.

The systems that will be designed for this competition may someday be used to aid individuals in everyday activities such as event clean-up. They also have the potential to become a stepping-stone for future space-based applications such as autonomous planet exploration and robotic aids for astronauts.

In the end, the Murray State robot (dubbed Murr-E) had the usual hiccups and shortcomings that ensue from a first-time project that is based on volunteer student labor.

But to Murray State’s student team, the robot was a success — it moved, played music and scored more points than robots from bigger engineering schools such as Virginia Tech and the University of Alabama.

Not too bad for a first try.

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