Nov 13, 2009
Two talented students build a robot that conquered a popular video game—while enhancing their resumes.
When Mike Teigen and Chee Lor decided on an ambitious final project of creating a robot that could play the popular “Guitar Hero” video game, their instructor, Jon Stenerson, wasn’t at all concerned. Both Teigen and Lor had excelled in Fox Valley Technical College’s Automated Manufacturing Systems program; the project was simply an opportunity to put what they’d learned to the test.
The idea came to them, Lor says, as they searched the Internet for ideas. They found some videos of automatic “Guitar Hero” programs where “little computer bots” seemingly played the game by using software to monitor the game’s source code. “We decided to make a robot that didn’t cheat by using this method,” Lor notes. “We wanted to create one that utilized a vision system to simulate how a human plays the game.”
As they worked, Lor and Teigen filled three composition books with sketches before creating a design that relied on an integrated vision system and programmable logic controller. The system could “watch” the screen as a human would. “We built everything from scratch,” Teigen recalls. “We never did anything like that before, so closer to the end we started using cardboard to make models, as well as CAD drawings. This way we made sure everything would fit before we cut the metal and put it together.”
Once they created the long list of needed parts, Stenerson helped the students contact local businesses to secure donated items. For example, one area manufacturer of control and automation systems provided a vision system at a significant discount. The company also sent technicians to campus to run demonstrations of the vision system, which is very industrial in nature. The same system and controls could be used to inspect parts moving along a conveyor.
Once completed, the project generated some national media attention, including coverage in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Making the Transition
The new Older Wiser Learners group helps displaced workers adjust to college.
Kathy LeClair remembers clearly how she felt last January when the spring semester started and she found herself sitting in a classroom for the first time in years. After asking around a bit, she learned that other students who had recently lost their jobs felt the same way. “We were wondering if we could do it,” she recalls. “We didn’t know how to study. We knew the college had great resources, but we didn’t know what to do or where to go.”
LeClair, who lost her job in September 2008, thought displaced workers needed a group on campus to offer help for one another. So they approached Vicky Barke, Fox Valley Technical College’s director of Student Life. Barke helped the students develop ideas, and the Older Wiser Learners (OWLs) group held its first meeting in May. “The meeting topics vary,” says Barke, noting that June’s event on managing finances drew more than 90 people. “But we consistently have about 40 people at every meeting.”
Other topics have included time and stress management, technology, and financial aid. OWLs members are now brainstorming future meeting topics and mulling over other services, such as tutoring, that they can offer as the group grows. LeClair already feels more relaxed in her new role as a student, and as chairperson of the OWLs group. “I think a lot of other displaced workers are feeling the same way, too. We’re all in the same boat, so it’s good to know you’re not on an island by yourself.”
First Place at National IT Competition
Members of Fox Valley Technical College’s student chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) earned first place at the organization’s national conference in Oklahoma City.
The winning team won top honors in the Graphic Communications category by creating a print and Web advertising campaign, including an overall brand design and message. The first-place entry competed against 15 other teams, including the likes of Purdue University and the University of Texas-Arlington.
Members of FVTC's first-place team include Thomas Willecke, Michael Sweigart, and Liudmila Vakulenko, under the leadership of club advisor and IT instructor Brenda Wilz.
More than 600 participants representing colleges and universities throughout the United States competed in several categories.