Robotics are the driving force of mankind,” said Eddie Pogosov, senior electrical and computer engineering major and robotics team Project Lead at UMKC.
Each year, the robotics team constructs an entire robot from start to finish over the span of four to six months using spare parts purchased online. This year, the team’s seven officers and 20 additional members will build the robot for an annual national competition, which will be held in April.
Although the faculty adviser is not directly involved in the creation of the robots, Debby Dilks, manager of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, has been involved in the field for 29 years and is one of the founding members of the robotics team.
Not long after Dilks began advising undergraduate electrical and computer engineering, she sent three students to the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference.
“They came home excited about a robot competition they saw while there and they wanted to start a team,” Dilks said. “With their help and Dr. Cory Beard, who was the IEEE faculty adviser, we formed a robot team and went to the competition in 2005.”
Unlike many other robotics competitions, the UMKC team creates “compact autonomous robots” rather than fighting robots.
“We have a different theme each year. This year we’re creating a robot capable of soil sampling,” Pogosov said. “Whoever creates the robot that is able to soil sample the quickest wins.”
Pogosov explained how soil sampling is used in the case of severe fires. In situations such as the Colorado forest fires that occurred earlier this summer, humans are unable to intervene directly.
“This is the perfect opportunity for a robot,” he said.
Although Pogosov has dedicated a large portion of his life to engineering, he makes
sure to have diversity in his life.
“I sing and play guitar in a band,” he said. “We don’t have a name and haven’t really performed on a large scale but we do write some original songs as well as perform covers.”
Pogosov also mountain bikes and makes sure to spend his free time with friends and family.
Matt Mohler, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major, jokes about his life only consisting of robotics.
“I’m the webmaster for IEEE, I mentor high school robotics and judge elementary robotics,” Mohler said. “I’m also a student ambassador for the School of Computing and Engineering and I most recently started up my own creative design firm.”
Mohler loves robotics for the constant challenge and the friendships he has built.
“The hardest part of robotics is probably working with other personalities and learning how to communicate effectively, but this is also the part I love the most,” Mohler said. “I’ve built lifelong friendships and learned how to blend together all the unique personalities for optimum results.”
Former project manager and graduate electrical engineering student Victor Skulavik II also believes he has formed lifelong friends with a strong network of people.
“We’re not just a team- I’ve formed relationships and friendships with these people and that will eventually lead to a helpful network in my future career,” Skulavik said.
Although he admits to the majority of his life consisting of nothing other than robotics, Skulavik manages to find some time for other activities such as salsa dancing.
“I salsa dance for fun, but it’s not like I don’t find robotics enjoyable. I hang out with the team outside of school and I love the feeling when things work and don’t blow up,” Skulavik said with a smile as Mohler laughed in agreement.
Freshman Robert Collins, who hopes to become a mechanical engineering major after this semester, and sophomore mechanical engineering major Chris Wolfe are both new to the team.
“I saw a flier for the robotics team and since I did robotics all four years through high school, I already knew I wanted to be in the field,” Collins said. “I’ve always been fascinated by robotics and love to see when the physical and mechanical parts work together.”
Collins spends his free time “wandering around aimlessly” and playing with Airsoft guns.
Wolfe was drawn to the team because of her interest in some day working in prosthetics.
“I was recruited by a member last year even though I was unable to join the team until now,” Wolfe said. “I thought this would only help with developing my future career.”
Both Collins and Wolfe were previously involved in First Lego League (FLL).
“FLL is mainly for elementary school kids. They create fully functioning autonomous robots from Lego kits,” Wolfe said.
Junior computer science major Sarah Withee admitted to also being involved in the FLL as well as the Society of Women Engineers.
“I saw the robotics team at the Roo Fair and they wanted computer science people so I joined,” she said. “Robotics is a lot of work but it’s cool to see something you made come to life.”
All members agree on the need for hands-on experience in any field, especially when the field is as technical as computing and engineering.
Pogosov believes practical application is key to his success in the industry.
“You can only learn so much from the classroom,” he said. “Robotics is like learning while creating life. These products are intelligent and capable of making their own decisions. In class, I learn the logistics but being part of this team allows me to see the purpose of robotics in the real world.”
The team competes against approximately 30 other teams in the annual competition. Although the team has never placed higher than 6th, Pogosov believes there will be a change this year.
“In the past, we haven’t done so well since robotics is a voluntary extracurricular. Some other schools require robotics as part of a class,” Pogosov said. “This year will be different since I am doing robotics as part of my senior design project.”
Dilks also thinks this year will be different.
“Every year I have high hopes, but this year I have several experienced members so yes I have high hopes this year. Plus the rules are out early, so they have a little longer to attack the problem,” Dilks said.
Pogosov and Dilks are looking forward to the upcoming year and proud to be part of such an important organization.
“I am very proud of the Robot Team and what they do for the school, the university and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) awareness in general,” Dilks said. “I’ve been told that my eyes light up when talking about them. If you had told me eight years ago that I would be as involved as I am with the team and ‘robots’ I would have thought you were crazy. But now it is in my blood and each year I am amazed at the new group of students and the efforts they put forth to help the team.”
If interested in joining the team, weekly meetings are held 2 p.m. every Friday in the Robotics Lab behind Flarsheim Hall.