Carolyn Goodwin’s team with her robot: Victoria Bowen (left), Goodwin, and Nicholas Hancock (right). Photo courtesy of Carolyn Goodwin.

Western sent two teams of student engineers, scientists, and robot-builders to the Colorado Robotics Challenge at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on April 16, “The Space Dudes” and “Kairolicktoria”. The pair of teams were advised by Western Professors Holly Brunkal, a Lecturer in Engineering and Geology, and Suzanne Taylor, an Assistant Professor of Physics.

The event was presented by NASA’s Colorado Space Grant Consortium, and featured teams from fellow Colorado universities, including the University of Colorado-Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines, and Adams State University. Due to the pandemic, the annual event has been on hold since 2019.

Kairolicktoria’s robot. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Goodwin.

Carolyn Goodwin, a junior at Western studying Mechanical Engineering, chose to attend Western and join the Rady School of Computer Science and Engineering’s first student cohort. In her third year of studies, she now is officially a CU-Boulder student, but takes a Western course to maintain her athletics eligibility so she can swim for the Mountaineers. 

Goodwin says the teams went into the competition blind to the specific tasks the challenge would require. “You had to be able to build one that could sense something in its path and redirect itself,” she adds. The challenges got successively harder and involved testing the robot’s ability to maneuver around rocks and practice agility on the sandy landscape. 

Hancock setting up the robot for the course. Photo courtesy of Dr. Holly Brunkal.

Kairolicktoria, Goodwin’s team, had an issue with one of its axles right as the team pulled into the parking lot to begin the competition. Thankfully, they were able to address the issue on the scene quickly. “The other team that came with us had some super glue, so we did as much as we could do with super glue,” she adds. 

Goodwin and the other engineering students have been hard at work this year on a variety of building projects, constructing a prototype of an adaptive mountain bike (in partnership with the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte) via a combination of machining and 3D printing, and undertaking design and build projects as part of the school’s newly forged partnership with Blister Labs. Goodwin was part of a team that built a drop-testing rig for mountain bike wheels, which tests the flexion of the wheels, in addition to other physical characteristics. 

Wrapping up her third year of coursework, Goodwin is excited to apply her new technical knowledge to practical projects where she can test her skills and appreciates the school’s new focus on outdoor industry products as a mountain biker and outdoor recreationist herself. 

The wheel drop-testing rig. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Goodwin

She also enjoyed the chance to work on robots afforded to her by Western’s participation in the Grand Sand Dunes competition. The experience stretched her typical area of academic study, but she plans to take the Rady School’s new Robotics course, which will be offered for the first time next year. 

Goodwin’s Spring 2022 course load included classes in product development, data analysis, thermodynamics, and manufacturing that lay the foundation for next year’s classes and senior capstone course, where Goodwin will work in a team to build an offroad vehicle for a national racing competition, the Baja SAE, that draws schools from across the country. 

From the competition’s website: “Baja SAE challenges engineering students to design and build an off-road vehicle that will survive the severe punishment of rough terrain and in some competitions, water. As in real work situations, these future engineers work together as a team to discover and resolve technical challenges in design, test, and manufacturing, as well as business issues.”

Other student capstone projects within the Engineering program will include further collaborations with Blister Labs and more projects aimed at adaptive sports. 

As for her experience in the Rady School, Goodwin says her cohort has definitely experienced an anticipated learning curve as the program’s first but has nothing but praise for the program’s faculty and instructors.