The Charger Blog

Engineering Students Make a Splash with Unique Pirate Ship Robot

Working on a final project for a mechatronics class, a team of engineering majors created a pirate ship robot that uses sensors to navigate a line track while detecting obstacles.

January 30, 2019

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Skyler Iafrate '19 discusses the mechatronics class project.

For a mechatronics class, Skyler Iafrate '19, a mechanical engineering major, had to build a robot that could follow a task and interact with sensors. Although he and his group didn’t initially set out to build a pirate ship, they were soon hooked on the idea.

"We found some Pirates of the Caribbean music online, and we thought it would be fun to make our robot pirate-related," said Iafrate. "We wanted to have fun with it."

The team, which included Jesse Philippi ’19, Cody Nieves ’19, and Reinaldo Buitron ’19, sailed through building the robot, first buying a toy pirate ship, then cutting out a space for wheels and drilling holes for sensors. The robot’s voyages don’t take it to sea; rather, it navigates along a black line outlining a curvy track, with its sensors detecting the line and keeping the robot from going off course. Along with their robot, the students also built important working relationships with each other, and with Cheryl Li, their instructor.

Cody Nieves '19, Jesse Philippi '19, Reinaldo Buitron '19, Dr. Cheryl Li
Cody Nieves '19, Jesse Philippi '19, Reinaldo Buitron '19, Dr. Cheryl Li

"It’s not an individual task – you network with your team," said Buitron. "You have people supporting you. Creating this robot gave me the skills I will need in my career while creating a bond with my professor and my peers."

Li, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, says the students went above and beyond in their efforts. Dubbed "The Charging Charger," the robot incorporated the pirate theme and Charger pride, with the masts proudly displaying Charlie the Charger, which the students traced by hand.

"I showed it to my friends, and they asked where they could buy it."Cheryl Li, Ph.D.

"I was surprised when I first saw it, since in the past no one had thought about decorating their robot like this," Li said. "I showed it to my friends, and they asked where they could buy it."

Though not for sale, the robot is already regarded as a treasure in the Tagliatela College of Engineering. The students found the project to be a terrific opportunity to explore something new.

pirate ship robot

"We got a better idea of how computers function at their foundational level," said Philippi. "Learning about coding was valuable. Now I know enough about coding to know how much I still don’t know."

The course gives students a unique hands-on approach to connecting and controlling sensors, motors, and encoders while presenting students with an opportunity for collaboration, innovation, and creativity.

"This mechatronics class gives us an introduction to integrating mechanics and helps us learn how to use sensors and start coding," said Nieves. "It’s helped me with my senior design class, since I can now help with coding and troubleshooting."