Building robots and creating a community

Engineering student club's passion for robotics create high-tech robot while creating a supportive community

Brenda Reynolds - 29 July 2019

(Edmonton) Programming robots at a FIRST Lego League competition is all it took to hook James Hryniw on robotics.

He was 12 years old.

Fast-forward to 2019, and Hryniw is a fourth year software engineering (co-op) student preparing to take his Autonomous Robotic Vehicle Project (ARVP) student club to a seven-day international RoboSub competition July 29 to August 4 in San Diego, Ca.

The ARVP, a creative group of engineering students, is joining 57 teams from around the world competing for the best autonomous underwater vehicle by navigating their robotic submarine through a series of tasks. Vampire lore is the competition's theme this year. Some of the robot's tasks will include: firing at an image of Dracula with its CO2-propelled torpedoes, and carrying undead occupants of coffins to the surface.

Teamwork is the essence of ARVP-more than 50 students representing several faculties are active in the club. Commitment and passion for robotics binds these students together. "The commitment on this team is amazing. And you have to have passion because the club takes up so much time and energy," says team member Andrea Muresan.

While Hryniw is involved in the robot design process, what really drives him is developing code for the robot.

"That passion is why I joined the club in the first place," he said.

He says it's the challenge and the community that keeps him coming back to ARVP year after year.

"Autonomy, especially general autonomy, is an unsolved problem, and this club gives me the opportunity to prototype and experiment with this technology," he said, explaining that solving real-world challenges with a team helps build valuable work and problem-solving skills.

"But over time, as I met more people, the community was also a huge factor keeping me in the club. Working upwards of 30 hours a week on an extracurricular project during school wouldn't be fun if I wasn't in it together with a bunch of really smart people."

There's no denying that programming a robotic vehicle to perform a series of tasks independently is a complex job.

"Sonar localization will be Auri's hardest task this year," said Hryniw.

The robot has to pick up on a very weak signal from a sonar pinger happening only every two seconds, and pinpoint its location 100 metres away.

"The team took a full year to develop the right hardware another half year to develop the algorithms needed to accomplish this task," he said. "However, we've successfully accomplished this on a smaller scale here in Edmonton, so we're reasonably confident we can repeat once in San Diego."