I graduated from Notre Dame in 2015 after partaking in Robotic football during my entire senior year. I started robotic football through Senior Design in the Fall, and enjoying it so much, I signed up to take it as an elective in the Spring. It became my passion and focus during my senior year, and I spent more time working on the robots than I did anything else, but I do not regret this decision at all. It is very evident now that Robotic Football played a key role in shaping my interests and helping me gain the skills necessary to do the work that I do today at DMC. DMC is an engineering consulting firm that provides a range of software and engineering services for a broad spectrum of industries. My role at DMC is on the Test and Measurement team, which develops automated test systems for data acquisition, end of line quality control and research and development using programming for custom or off-the-shelf hardware.
I have admittedly been interested in automation and programming for a long time, but robotic football gave me a practical way to pursue these passions - by working to automate the difficult passing game. By the end of my time at Notre Dame, we had developed a competitive mechanical system, enhanced a vision sensor called a Pixycam running on an Arduino. This Pixycam was used to sense a wide-receivers's position and distance relative to the QB. It generated set-points and provided visual feedback to servo motors and two DC brush-less motors which operated the QB's throwing mechanism. Two tachometers placed underneath the throwing wheels were used in a PID algorithm to converge wheel speed to the proper velocity to throw the sensed distance. This system was first fully used by the 2015-2016 team, and with it, they were able to complete the first ever fully autonomous pass in a game of robotic football.
Besides fanning the flame for my passion of automation and providing some real system-level engineering experience that I was able to explain in all of my job interviews senior year, I also learned some other essential engineering fundamentals. It was through the hands on experience with Robotic Football that I learned how to design a product and specify hardware components for purchase. I improved in my ability to track large hardware orders and how to keep task lists, hardware lists, and many different schedules organized. I learned the standard measuring systems for screws and nuts and the practical considerations in specifying a servo or dc motor. I researched the latest micro-controllers and sensors to understand the capabilities of vastly different platforms and compared them in order to provide the best recommendations to my team. I grew in my understanding of the importance of design, since the robots needed parts that could be easy to manufacture, easy to assemble, bought cheaply, aesthetically appealing, reliable in function, and maintainable over time.
Finally, and most importantly, I learned and applied the skills of real project management, which is what I do every day in my consulting job. At DMC we conduct software engineering projects, but manage all the details of budget, scope, and schedule. These same constraints are true of Robotic Football. I had the opportunity to lead a team of 10 colleagues in my Robotic Football class. I moderated each of our two weekly team meetings, where I kept track of task lists and overall schedule for the club. I managed the delegation of responsibility and acted as a mediator for any load-balancing concerns. It was through managing this large group of peers that I learned the art of trusting other and following up consistently. I learned to learn my teams strengths and capabilities and practiced catering my management style based on their merits. I will also be the first to admit that it was a very eye-opening introduction to how important the soft skills of management are. I am still practicing these skills and am sure they will take a while to master, but I am grateful for the opportunity to lead my classmates and have this experience while still in college.
Of all my experiences in college, Robotic Football most prepared me for the work I do today. While I was in Robotic football, I would see Xbee's, Arduinos, DC motors, servo drives, soldering stations, vision sensors, etc every single day. Now that I am in the workforce, I still see these things every day, but use them in a different way. I guess I'm saying is, I really never left the robots when I had to leave robotic football.
Class of 2015