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Robots created by the School of Engineering’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Laboratory can seek out and ‘neutralize’ items.

After competing in a global competition, Penn engineers are making magic in the field of robotics.

A team of researchers from the Penn School of Engineering and Applied Science took second place last month in the Multi Autonomous Ground-Robotic International Challenge (MAGIC) in Australia, winning a $250,000 research prize.

General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory members Jon Butzke, Alex Kushleyev, Cody Phillips and Mike Phillips comprised the team, building seven self-guiding robots, designing their software and creating a visual system in order to allow the robots to navigate a course by themselves.

Sponsored by the Australian and American governments, the competition aimed to see current research on robotics that could be integrated into defense systems.

Team leader and Electrical and Systems Engineering professor Daniel Lee said the robots had to seek out and “neutralize” eight items, similar to disabling weapons on a battlefield.

Lee said the team plans to use the research prize to “explore some new ideas we have with robots.”

The prize money sharply contrasts with the relatively low budget they had for the project. Second-year Computer and Information Science graduate student Cody Phillips, who called himself the “vision guy,” said he spent $90 on a webcam and a Christmas ornament to build the cameras which the robots used to see.

After beginning the project a little over a year ago, the team spent many late nights over the last few months in preparation for MAGIC.

Though most of the team had participated in similar competitions before, such as the DARPA Urban Challenge — which also involved self-navigating robots — this was the first time MAGIC was held.

While their team met the minimum requirement of five participants, Phillips said some groups had 20 or 30 people. “I definitely felt like the underdog,” he said of the team’s budget and manpower.

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