a, Science & Technology

McGill Robotics prepares for a new year

McGill Robotics is an interdisciplinary engineering design team at McGill University that has a strong, albeit short, history of success.

Its year-old Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) team has already started winning awards and has plans for more.

The AUV team that attended the RoboSub competition in San Diego this past August placed 10th overall in a field of 49 teams, and third in static judging. They also won the Judge’s Award for Best Branding and Business Development.

The competition calls for the creation of an underwater robotic vehicle to autonomously navigate through a series of obstacles.

“What makes us stand out is that we have a lot of different faculties come and work with us,” stated AUV project manager, Paul Albert-Lebrun, a U2 electrical engineer student. “You don’t have to be an engineer to join.”

McGill Robotics is structured as an ‘umbrella organization,’ which means that a number of design teams are formed from individuals with varying levels of expertise and different academic backgrounds. Olivier Lamarre, the University Rover Challenge (URC) project manager and a U3 mechanical engineer, states that part of their success is due to their organizational structure.

“[McGill Robotics] is a great place to get hands on experience,” Lamarre said. “We can apply principles physically that we wouldn’t in class, and [we] empower students to create and develop—to feel comfortable with their own ideas.”

The engineering group has a number of initiatives in place for McGill Robotics.

“We’re building the team—starting with mini projects on the 16th of September—to test the creativity of prospective applicants,” Lamarre said. “From there we’ll [start] choosing people.”

According to AUV software division lead, U3 electrical engineer Mathieu Wang, McGill Robotics is primarily looking for dedicated members.

“Obviously if you have worked with robots before, that’s great, but that’s not the only thing we’re looking for,” Wang said. “In previous years, we had members with zero experience, but they turned out to be an important part of the team because they stayed and took a lot of time to learn and work on it.”

The ‘team-before-machine’ mantra is a philosophy of McGill Robotics that prioritizes team bonding and development alongside engineering success. Members of the club believe the AUV team—established over two years—was built with this in mind. The first year of the project focused on establishing a strong team and a functional robot, with the second year meant to win the competition.

McGill Robotics hopes to share their enthusiasm for robots with the community and encourage participation—which, according to Lamarre, is the best part of being a part of the team.

“When we do outreach or when we have events, we showcase our robots and they impress people, but people don’t think they could ever do what we do,” he said. “[It’s] when you can prove to them that robotics is not something unachievable—that it is something very feasible—that people realize robotics is in reach of everyone who is willing to learn from it. It is then when we feel most that we’ve done a successful job.”

Full disclosure: Genevieve Fried is a member of McGill Robotics.

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