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This One’s for You, Memo!
Barely three weeks after the Mexican National Football Team was knocked out of the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, Mexican soccer, or fútbol, players of a different stripe competed in a heart-stopping Soccer RoboCup Junior tournament on July 18 at the University of Arizona.
What the two-wheeled, autonomous LEGO robots lacked in beating hearts (at least for now; anything’s possible, given advances in robotics), they made up for in technical wizardry, sporty attire, and the excitement they generated as their student designers and supporters cheered, high-fived, and shouted “Gooooooooool!”
Thirty-four industrial engineering and mechatronics undergraduates from the Tecnológico de Monterrey Sonora Norte Campus, or ITESM, participated in the capstone event of “The Systems Process,” a three-week course taught by UA associate professor of systems and industrial engineering Ricardo Valerdi.
“Dr. Valerdi’s course was as an excellent course that I wish I had taken earlier in my career,” said fourth-year mechatronics student Rodrigo Alonso. “He calls the course The Systems Process, but it should be called Good Engineering. I personally believe every engineer should take it.”
Alonso added, “For me, the most fun part of the class was building the soccer-playing robot. The competition to see who would win the tournament added spice to the whole course, allowing for healthy competition and some heated discussions among students. In all, it was a wonderful experience.”
The summer course, which ended July 18, was offered through an international exchange program run by the UA Office of Global Initiatives in collaboration with the ITESM campus in Hermosillo.
“ITESM is the flagship engineering institute for higher learning in Mexico, and these are some of the best engineering students in that country,” said Valerdi. “This course was our first collaboration of its kind with them.”
RoboCup in Action
In the RoboCup Junior contest, autonomous robots performed on two small playing fields in the University of Arizona BookStores lobby, beneath an international flags display. Five teams of students designed the robots, which punted a special soccer ball that transmits infrared signals. Many competitors wore Mexico’s national colors of red, white, and green; referees sported the requisite pinstripes.
Team Ochoa won the tournament; they chose their moniker in honor of Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa, the Mexican National Football Team’s star goalkeeper.
Preparing for the RoboCup contest was truly a labor of love for the students. Fourth-year mechatronics major Flor Burruel, who aspires to develop “green electricity sources,” said she burned the midnight oil in the final hours before the Friday morning tournament, testing and making adjustments to the robot for her team.
“I have never had this kind of experience, and I hope to have more of them,” she said.
RoboCup Junior is a student contest affiliated with RoboCup International, now in its 20th year. The 2014 RoboCup was held in Brazil a week after the World Cup, with teams of professional engineers competing from more than 40 countries. Over the years, the competition has led to important scientific breakthroughs. By creating soccer robots that can act autonomously and coordinate movements in dynamic environments, roboticists are paving the way for more advanced robots to serve on battlefields and perform human rescue operations.
Mike Proctor, UA vice president of global initiatives, stressed the value of the exchange program with ITESM, not only for the two universities, but also for bordering countries.
“The UA’s connection with Mexico transcends geography,” he said. “Our respective faculty have been working together for years, and our collaborations with Mexico reflect a critical strategic opportunity. Mexico is one of the United States’ primary trade partners, and Mexico’s economy is one of the most robust in the world. Our universities are uniquely situated, based on their connections with students and industry, to profoundly impact our shared economic future.”
Myrta Rodríguez, professor and director of the department of industrial engineering at the ITESM Sonora Norte Campus, noted, “We are committed to development of international vision in our students. We are proud to have had this opportunity to collaborate with the University of Arizona.”
Lectures, Labs, and Diamondbacks
The Systems Process class included morning lectures and afternoon labs, where students designed the soccer robots and wrote software to operate them. Students also took two field trips, one to Biosphere 2 and another to Chase Field.
“Biosphere 2 is an interesting experiment and a very complex system, located just outside Tucson, that helps students learn how to design complex systems that interface with the human and natural environments,” Valerdi said.
Chase Field in Phoenix, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is “another complex system with sophisticated technologies; for the roof, the air conditioning, and the information technology required to run a professional baseball game,” he said.
Said third-year mechatronics student Juan Rafael Capobianco, “On the field trips, we could apply what we had learned in class in different contexts.”
The ITESM exchange program was about more than just systems engineering.
“Being at a U.S. university helped many of us in improving our English and interacting with people from other nations and cultures,” said Rodrigo Alonso. “I met people from Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and, of course, many Mexicans and Americans.”
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“Partnering with a Mexican company brought a sense of the unknown,” he said. “But once we got to tour the plant, it gave us a sense of awe. It was an extremely impressive facility, and it was amazing to see what a large quantity of automobile parts they were able to manufacture.”
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