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OU robotics team makes strong showing at national competition

Friday, May 13, 2011
OU robotics team makes strong showing at national competition
By Eric Reikowski, media relations assistant

OU's FIRST Robotics team took second place and took the top design award at the 2011 FIRST Robotics Championship, a national competition in St. Louis.
Oakland University’s FIRST Robotics team turned in a strong performance at the 2011 FIRST Robotics Championship, taking second place overall and capturing the top design award.

Held in downtown St. Louis, the event attracted thousands of attendees, including K-12 students, educators, officials, and industry leaders, according to Dr. Osamah Rawashdeh, OU FIRST Robotics faculty advisor.

Dr. Rawashdeh served on a national committee that devised and implemented the Collegiate Aerial Robotics Demonstration (CARD). Plans are in the works for this new college-level competition to become a permanent part of FIRST Robotics, an organization traditionally limited to K-12 students.

While the event was new, it was not OU's first foray into aerial competitions. Since 2008, OU's Aerial Systems Club has participated in several aerial events, including a national competition held at a naval air station in Maryland. Dr. Rawashdeh coached the team, which won numerous honors and $8,000 in prize money. With the emergence of a FIRST Robotics collegiate aerial competition, he saw an opportunity to build on that success.

"We've shifted our focus and used our prior experiences to contribute to and participate in FIRST Robotics," said Dr. Rawashdeh.

The team is comprised of OU students Coskun Acar, Matthew Taus, Muawea Rawashdeh, Abdullah Al-Refai and Robert Preston.

Dubbed the O-UFOs, the group spent six months developing an aerial vehicle in compliance with FIRST rules. In competition, 10 teams engaged in a game of tic-tac-toe with aerial and ground robots. OU's quadrotor helicopter consisted of a foam bumper, cameras for remote piloting and a suction-based grabber that helped the team win the award for most innovative design.

Click here to view a YouTube clip of the competition. 

Team leader Muawea Rawashdeh said the event was one of the most memorable of his college career.

"What I liked the most about it was how it encouraged everybody to work together toward a common goal," he said. "Although we didn't take first place, we are all still very proud of what we were able to accomplish. We were one of the few teams that built their own aerial robot and had it ready to compete."

The event featured teams from nationally ranked schools, including the University of Minnesota, Pace University, University of Washington, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

"It was pretty competitive," said Preston. "Our robot was very robust. Whenever we crashed, we were able to get back up right away. We received a lot of positive feedback from people who walked by."

Preston, a graduate student who has been involved with FIRST Robotics since high school, says that the college competition allows students to continue building valuable skills. "In high school, people walk you through the process of design," he continued. "In college, you learn the reasoning behind it and get the opportunity to apply what you have learned."

With the first competition under its belt, the team is looking forward to participating in future CARD events and hopes to gain support from corporate sponsors. The team is currently funded by Oakland's School of Engineering and Computer Science, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Center for Student Activities.

"We've shown that we are capable of designing and building a quality robot that can be successful in competition," Preston said. “Hopefully, the event will get bigger as word gets out and more schools want to be a part of it."

To learn more about FIRST Robotics at OU, contact Dr. Rawashdeh at