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BJU Robotics Team prepares for international competition

Dr. Bill Lovegrove checks students’ work on this year’s robot for the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition. Photo: Ethan Rogers

The BJU Robotics Team will compete in the international Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) June 5-8 at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

Consisting of four engineering and information technology students, the BJU Robotics Team began five years ago under the direction of Dr. Bill Lovegrove, head of the department of physics and engineering. Meeting every Thursday for two hours with individuals working on their own as well, the team builds a new or modified autonomous (unmanned and uncontrolled) robot that is run by a computer which uses laser sensors, a GPS and cameras to determine what path to take.

After countless hours of work, the team takes the robot to the IGVC in the summer to compete against 40 to 50 other schools. While some aspects of the competition focus on categories in robot design, the main event is an obstacle course on a field with traffic obstacles, construction barrels, fences and flags around which the robot must navigate. “Your robot has to discover the course and find its way through like a person would,” Lovegrove said.

Although the competition offers cash prizes to the winners and great experience for all participants, the BJU Robotics Team also uses this weekend to display their Christian testimony. “We don’t compete on Sunday, which is a general tradition and part of our philosophy,” Lovegrove said. “We go to church on Sunday, so there are parts of the competition we don’t get to be involved in.”

For example, last year’s robot was in the top six for its design. However, the final design presentations were on Sunday, so the team opted for sixth place. Lovegrove said giving up a potentially higher placing is worth the sacrifice if it causes other competitors to wonder what makes the BJU Robotics team different from everyone else.

Another display of the team’s testimony is their choice in their robot’s name. Every year, the team chooses the name of a Bible character for the robot. Last year’s was Isaiah; this year’s is Judah. “It’s a great conversation starter,” Lovegrove said. “Often competitors ask each other, ‘Why did you choose that name for your robot?’ For us it’s a great way to talk about the Scriptures and share our faith.”