'Geeks' lead robots to history

The undefeated Valpo Robotics Football Team added another win when it took home the national championship trophy on April 15.

The team, which calls itself the Gridiron Geeks, is now 4-0 after beating the Notre Dame Fightin’ ibots 87-16.

Valpo competed at the University of Notre Dame against Ohio Northern University in the playoffs and won 100-31, then defeated Notre Dame for the overall win. This was the first official intercollegiate playoff championship.

The team was started three years ago with help from Jason Toberman, a senior electrical and mechanical engineering double major. Current junior computer engineering major Aaron Roggow helped design the prototype robot his freshman year. Senior design students then used the prototype to create a full team of eight robots the following year.

“It was a good opportunity to apply some stuff we learned in class and build upon and do stuff we didn’t do in class,” Roggow said.

The team already has experience with designing robots for the Midwestern Robotics Design Competition, which requires students to build different models each year in order to complete different tasks. Roggow said the difference with designing the football robots is they last longer.

“You’re dealing with the consequences of your design decisions for several years,” Roggow said.

Just like an NCAA collegiate team, the Gridiron Geeks held tryouts and attended practices in order to make sure all team members were familiar with the plays.

“That’s what really made us successful in the playoffs,” Toberman said. “The other teams looked like they just went out for a pass and did a run, but everybody didn’t have a constant flow.”

The team is also one of the only few in the league to have a pit crew that attends every practice and all games. Roggow said they’ve become so familiar with the robots they can fix one and have it back on the field in a matter of minutes.

“Another thing that helped us out in our games was we were able to complete a lot of passes in comparison to the other teams,” senior electrical engineering major Elise Devol said.

She and her senior design team created three new additions to the team: Charlie Tweeder (82), Matt Saracen (7) and Pat McAfee (1). All robots are named after fictional players from television and movies.

Because robotic football is designed to play as much like a real game as possible, emphasis is placed on passing and teamwork. Additional points are awarded to teams who pass the ball from one robot to another, instead of having one machine make all the plays.

The Gridiron Geeks’ teamwork plays and long passes helped earn them more points.

According to Devol, the team’s use of infrared technology in its designs is a major contributor to its success with passes. The robots can sense where another teammate is, and is therefore better able to line itself up to pass or receive the ball.

Toberman said as the team continues to develop more complex robots, they’ll be able to design and run more plays.

“I think my favorite moment was catching a perfect pass with 82 and then running it in for a touchdown,” Roggow said. “I had this moment where I was just running down for the touchdown, and like no one could touch me, and just knowing everything that had gone into that moment on the engineering side.”

Contact Stacy McKeigue at torchnews@valpo.edu.

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