Robo-Race for 18-100 Puts High School Students on the ECE Track


August 9, 2002

This is for the bronze! Josh Schare, ECE graduate student, announced while Frogger chased Utka across the zig-zag plywood track. The Advanced Placement Early Admission (APEA) high school juniors and seniors cheered on their robots, as Frogger wheeled his way to victory, ending one of the races in the final project for 18-100: Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering. Approximately 50-60 honor students from around the world enrolled for six weeks of daily lectures and biweekly labs. Although the curriculum remains the same in the summer, 18-100 is normally offered during the 15-week semester with lectures twice a week and a lab once a week. It is usually one of two courses taken for college credit by the APEA participants, who live in the universitys dormitories to experience campus life.

Watching the basic concepts of the field come alive with their creations, they prepared for the competition with the help of ECE Lecturer Tom Sullivan, who explains robotic circuitry as teams build their own models. The course teaches the students to analyze electronic circuitry and how smaller circuits and systems can combine to form larger, more complex systems. Each robot can move forward, turn right and left, flash a small light and beep when programmed through an attached keypad, which students disconnect before the race. They are constructed with educational kits produced by Graymark; a company that also produces a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) kit used in the course during the fall and spring.

Its designed to expose a lot of these students to college level work and it exposes students to the social element of college life, as well, Sullivan said. When they start college, they will be ahead of the game.

I think its really great. You get to learn a lot of cool stuff, build some robots, and have fun at the same time," agreed Roland Blew, a high school senior from Wilmington, Delaware.

To qualify their entry, a teaching assistant (TA) must witness the robot navigate the entire course. Each contestant then enters a single elimination tournament and vies for the best of three races in the final round. The departments electronics supply store, Tech Electronics, offers prizes for the top three places.

Four ECE graduate students and two undergraduates helped with two lab sections this summer, the sixth season for the program. While on campus, the high school students can sign up for an admission interview. Generally, three or four members of the APEA group become ECE majors at CMU each year.

Another educational series connected to ECE also runs concurrently with the APEA-- the Carnegie Mellon Summer Academy for Minority Scholars (SAMS) Program for African American, Hispanic American and Native American high school students. Coordinated by the Carnegie Mellon Action Project (CMAP), SAMS encourages high school juniors and seniors to apply for college and consider CMU. Thirty students with strengths in physics and calculus enroll in two three-week periods with two hours of lab work per day; through science and engineering exposure labs they encounter ECE as a potential major. The project course covers electronics and basic lab skills; although it does not count for college credit or incorporate a lecture portion, pupils construct and race the same Graymark robot kit.

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Thomas Sullivan