Durgakant Pushp, a third-year Ph.D. student in robotics at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering’s Vehicle Autonomy and Intelligence Lab, won the Audience Choice Award for the Luddy School’s Smart Gripper Tethered Unmanned Ground Vehicle System team during the prestigious MassRobotics Forms & Function Robotics Challenge. It was part of the fourth annual Robotics Summit & Expo, which ran May 10-11 at the Boston Convention Center.
The Luddy School team, guided by Lantao Liu, assistant professor of Intelligent Systems Engineering and director of the Vehicle Autonomy and Intelligence Lab, received $5,000.
Pushp, who was the only team member, said it took one month of planning and two months of work, often involving 16- to 18-hour days, to build the robot, which included two cameras, expandable arms, headlights and a vacuum gripper.
“Winning this award hold great significance,” Pushp said. “Considering the intense workload, my emotions are running high. This recognition is special and a testament to the efforts invested.”
The Challenge asked university teams to create a robotics project that delivered a compelling form factor specific to its tasks while performing a useful function. It encouraged collaboration between state-of-the-art software and hardware providers.
Twelve universities from around the world -- including Denmark, Canada, South Korea, Ghana and the United States -- competed for a grand prize of $25,000, along with $5,000 prizes for second and third place.
The Audience Choice Award came by a unanimous conference participant vote. Those included industry experts, CEOs and co-founders of robotic startups, robotics researchers and university competitors.
“I am very excited that he represented IU in this event and eventually brought back this award,” said Liu, who is Pushp’s Ph.D. adviser. “Different from other awarded teams, our IU team is small, and our preparation time is short. This is a unique award voted and selected by all attendees. That's why it’s impressive.”
Pushp focused on an unmanned aerial vehicle-mini unmanned ground vehicle system for hidden area exploration and manipulation. He said the system is designed to aid search-and-rescue operations, and potentially save lives. It flies into a designated location, then releases a robot that explores the area.
“Our innovative system combines the agility and speed of the UAVs with the versatility of miniUGVs to unlock the secrets of hidden spaces,” Pushp said.
The Luddy team’s system addressed problems that arise during natural disasters, when the need to access hidden areas and spaces is crucial.
“By deploying the miniUGV near or inside openings such as holes or crevices during critical situations,” Pushp said, “the system autonomously explores these concealed areas, seeking survivors or vital information.”
Pushp said the system also could be used for rock blasting during mining. He said rocking blasting has risks of serious injuries and fatalities, and using the miniUGV system could automate the process and protect human life.
The Vehicle Autonomy and Intelligence Lab develops methodologies that enhance the autonomy and intelligence of robotic systems such as unmanned ground, aerial and aquatic vehicles. Research focuses on planning, learning and coordinating techniques for single or multiple robots with potential applications including autonomous navigation, environmental monitoring, search and rescue, and smart transportation.
While Pushp was the only IU team member, Dyson Corporation robotics design engineer Swapnil Kalhapure provided crucial assistance by creating a 3D CAD model of the robot, designing the circuit board and contributing to the innovative wheel and tether module design.
Key support also came from MassRobots partner companies. Nano Dimensions facilitated the printing and delivery of the circuit board. Lattice Semiconductor provided the FPGA board that implemented the AI-based algorithm using for landing the robot. Analog Devices contributed a depth camera.
Pushp said the award wouldn’t have happened without Liu’s support, which included, “providing the necessary resources to bring my vision for the project to fruition.”
“We believe this technology holds immense potential to transform exploration and rescue operations,” Pushp added. “Our innovative thinking, determination, and efficient time management allowed us to overcome challenges and create something remarkable.”