Athletes Build Robotic Wide Receiver

Athletes Build Robotic Wide Receiver

Written By: Kate Reilly

Fusing football passion with engineering expertise, a group of Carnegie Mellon University athletes participated in the annual Build18 challenge to create a robotic wide receiver. The team consisted of senior football payers, Alex Byrnes (Hinsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central) and Rory Hubbard (Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula), junior tennis player Nicholas Calzolano (Hinsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central) and additional members Ben Orgera, Lior Barhai and Justin Belardi. 

Build18, a week long engineering challenge at the beginning of the spring 2019 semester, gave the group an opportunity to integrate their variety of backgrounds including electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science and robotics. "I thought it would be fulfilling to work on something that was closely aligned with one of my passions," said slot receiver Alex Byrnes, who majors in computer science. "We were all motivated to put together a project that was both enjoyable to use and something that gave us an opportunity to explore engineering novelties that we had not worked with in the past," Byrnes added. 

The robotic wide receiver, or Megatron as the group named it, is made up of a moveable base and lacrosse net, which catches the quarterback's throw. Megatron uses Arduino, a physical programmable circuit board, to control motors on the base to run a variety of preprogrammed routes. Additionally, the team placed a webcam in front of the robot that uses computer vision to recognize when the ball is thrown. It then calculates the trajectory and velocity of the pass, and sends a signal to the receiver for how it must adjust its route in order to catch the ball. All computer vision was done using openCV with C++.

The team accomplished their ambitious design within the restricted timeframe that Build18 allots, however the athletes are still considering potential improvements to the project. "We want to implement a mode that allows the quarterback to draw the exact route it wants the receiver to run. Additionally, we also would like to improve the dynamics of the robot such that it moves at a more realistic speed," said Byrnes.  

In their planning phase, the team projected that an improved version of Megatron might be used as a training tool for quarterbacks to improve throwing accuracy. "We figured it might be more of a luxury item for teams, or a feature for training facilities to offer to kids of all ages," said Byrnes. The team also envisioned that an improved version of Megatron might be used for sports entertainment purposes.  

Video credits: Bill Shancey