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College of Engineering robotics students win awards around the world


BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 20, 2007 – Students from the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Robotics and Mechanics Laboratory have traveled the United States and abroad this summer, winning a number of honors for robotics research and development.

Working under the guidance of Robotics and Mechanics Laboratory director Dennis Hong, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering , and graduate student Karl Muecke, a group of undergraduate students formed Team SPRInt (Soccer Playing Robot with Intelligence) and created the autonomous humanoid robot “DARwIN” (Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence).

Developed by the team to operate without human intervention, DARwIn can stand up on its own and locate and kick a tiny soccer ball toward a goal. DARwIn was the only U.S. entry invited to compete in the Humanoid Division of the international RoboCup 2007, held in July in Atlanta.

The team’s undergraduate leader, Robert Mayo of Midlothian, Va., completed his bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech in May and is currently a graduate student in mechanical engineering working with Hong in the Robotics and Mechanics Laboratory.

The other mechanical engineering undergraduates on team SPRInt were

  • Abhijit Chakraborty of Germantown, Md.
  • Marilyn Duncan of Annandale, Va.
  • Andrew Lynch of Millersville, Md.
  • Ryan Misjan of Cary, N.C.
  • Laurence O’Neill of Haymarket, Va.
  • Bill Pannell of Knoxville, Tenn.
  • Eric Steinberg of Mt. Laurel, Md.


All of the students except Duncan were seniors who graduated in May. Steinberg is now working on his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.

Although Team SPRInt and DARwIn won no prizes at RoboCup, they were invited by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence to the International Robot Competition and Exhibition in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they won the Technical Innovation Award.

SPRInt and DARwIn also were invited by National Instruments (NI) to present the keynote demonstration before an audience of 3,500 during NI Week in Austin, Texas, in August. While at the international virtual instrumentation conference, the Virginia Tech team won three awards, including the Most Outstanding Application of Virtual Instrumentation Award.

In addition, Hong and the following mechanical engineering graduate students won the Best Paper Award during the International Conference on Advanced Robotics, held in Jeju, Korea, in August.

  • Derek Lahr of Charleston, S.C.
  • Ivette Morazzani of Vienna, Va.; and
  • Ping Ren of Edison, N.J.,


The group’s paper, “Novel Tripedal Mobile Robot and Considerations for Gait Planning Strategies Based on Kinematics,” describes their work on a novel three-legged robot that is designed to walk with high energy efficiency and stability and can change directions while walking. The paper will be published in the Journal of Intelligent Service Robotics.

Hong and his students are developing several other types of robotic mechanisms in the Robotics and Mechanics Laboratory for both undergraduate competitions and graduate research. Earlier this year, Hong received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award for his work on a Whole Skin Locomotion (WSL) mechanism that works on much the same principle as the pseudopod — or cytoplasmic “foot” — of the amoeba.

Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college’s 5,500 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a hands-on, minds-on approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 1,900 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study, including biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology.