In 2011, a group of robotics enthusiasts decided to get together to learn and share knowledge on robotics hardware and software. This group of students later became the Robotics Study Group at the Pontifical Catholic University of Goiás. I was a founding member and coordinator from 2011 to 2013. In this post, I write about the group's history and projects.
It all started when the final project of a sophomore year Digital Systems for Computers course was to build a calculator, using integrated circuits (IC), logic gates and arithmetic logic units (ALUs). This calculator project gave us the first taste of hardware design and left us wondering what was next. After reaching out to the director of our department, we learned that we would only learn more about integrated circuits, microcontrollers and robotics in senior year if we pursued the minor in industrial automation. As some of us were majoring in computer science, industrial automation wasn't even an option in the curriculum. It was a setback for us but we did not give up. We founded the Robotics Study Group with our own resources and requested the department authorization needed to access the university laboratories.
Our initial goal was to get the simplest hardware platform out there and start working on it. We considered Lego Mindstorms but it came out was very limited for our purposes. The university engineering program used the PIC microcontrollers family, but I was a fairly complex toolchain for beginners. Luckily, we found the Arduino platform and started doing experiments with LED, LCD, sensors, servomotors, DC motors, and others.
Many professors contributed mentoring, answering questions, and suggesting projects. One of our professors, MsC Alaor Junior introduced a hexapod project that later became the Arduino Spider Robot. Another professor, PhD Solange da Silva came up with ideas and requirements that turned into the Arduino Plant Watering System.
The work developed in the group went beyond robotics and members also used the resources for courses being taken during the semester, senior capstone projects and undergraduate research activities. The Linux Beowulf Cluster was developed as the final project for the Computer Architecture and Organization course. The RFID Access Control System started as a paper for the Hardware and Software Interfaces course. The RFID Network was part of an undergraduate research plan developed in the lab.
The group became a friendly environment to work on technical projects and also to develop teamwork, leadership, and people skills. Between 2011 and 2013, the group went from 4 up to 40 members. We participated in many events presenting the projects developed and had several workshops on robotics and computer programming. Group members won robotics competitions, innovation awards, scholarships, and research grants.
In 2013, I was granted a scholarship to study at Montana State University, Bozeman-MT, United States. Thanks to the robotics and embedded systems experience acquired over the years at the group, I was able to participate in two awesome NASA projects: NASA Robotic Mining Competition and NASA Eclipse Ballooning Project.
When I'm mentoring students I always tell them to practice what they are learning from textbooks and lectures in the real world. As
Robert C. Martin (Uncle Bob) speculates in his book Clean Code, you could have a Ph.D. in Physics of Riding a Bicycle and you would still fall down the first time you climbed a bike. While in college, students should try their best to engage in groups of their interest to practice technical and people skills. IEEE and ACM usually have student branches in universities. I'm sure it will worth the time invested.