Robotics Club unites majors

By IAN LACK Reporter

Students gather in the third floor of Daktronics Engineering Hall weekly to sketch designs, write code and solder metals to create their own robot.

This is South Dakota State University’s Robotics Club. Formed in 2014, the club boasts 25 members who want to better their robotics skills.

“We have computer science majors, mechanical engineers, graphic design students and even some econ and plant science students,” club President Calvin Kielas-Jensen said. “You don’t have to have engineering knowledge to want to join. You just have to be interested and be willing to learn.”

Kielas-Jensen, senior electrical engineering major, didn’t have a lot of experience with robotics when he joined the club, but had coding knowledge he wanted to apply in the physical world.

Research Associate III Jason Sternhagen, the club’s adviser, said students grow in their understanding of the technology.

The club has created several robots, including “sumo robots,” made for competitions where they push each other over, and a quadcopter that’s used for aerial video capture. The club is beginning work on an all-terrain robot this semester.

It takes a couple weeks to several months to create the robots. There is a formal process for which funds are allocated for projects.

When a club member pitches an idea, the club votes to approve and fund the project, members are assigned to different tasks.

Then, members design the machine and order parts or create them in a workshop on campus. Code is written for the robot, creating the instructions it will carry out.

Prototyping then begins. Parts are assembled and lightly tested before revisions are made, finalizing the robot.

Club Vice President and senior computer science major Mitchell Petit said creating a robot is “an engineering process.”

“There’s a lot of planning and collaboration that really go a long way to create just one machine,” Petit said.

The club has also been invested in community outreach. In the past, the club has reached out to George S. Mickelson Middle School to foster robotics interest by teaching students the basic mechanics. The club’s members plan to continue these outreach efforts.

“For anyone considering joining, I’d say if you’re a tinkerer like me and have any interest in robots whatsoever, stop on by,” Petit said.

The Robotics Club meets at 7:30 p.m. Mondays in Daktronics Engineering Hall room 370.