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Contact: Michael Stanisic
University of Notre Dame

Spring football goes robotic

It's the season for spring football games and the University of Notre Dame's 83rd annual Blue Gold Football Game will have an unusual accompaniment. Notre Dame's Robotic Football Team will host the Polar Bears of Ohio Northern University in the first-ever intercollegiate mechatronic football game on April 20.

For the past three years, this "game" has served as the final requirement for seniors in one section of Notre Dame's Mechanical Engineering Senior Design, a capstone course that is the culmination of the mechanical engineering curriculum in a design, build and test experience.

Michael Stanisic, associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at Notre Dame, developed the robotic football concept and is leading the course this year. Stanisic and sponsors hope to grow the game into a collegiate robotic league via the Mechatronic Football Club at Notre Dame, which has applied for status as an official University club.

Each team has designed and built robots including linemen, running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks and kickers that will compete for the Brian Hederman Memorial Robotic Competition Award. Hederman was a Notre Dame student who suffered an untimely death after his freshman year in 1995. The award plaque and the competition itself are inspired by a drawing he left behind.

Equipped with sensors that flash different colors when the mechantronic players are hit, tackled or injured, the robots are roughly the size of desktop printers. The game itself consists of two 15-minue halves and a 10-minute halftime. The rules for the game are those for eight-man football, modified for mechanical play.

Despite the air of a sporting event, the game is actually a display of the accumulated knowledge of sophisticated engineering concepts. The technical challenges of designing and building the robot football players deepens students' understanding of and ability to implement engineering principles. The participants will use the skills they acquire during the project in their careers as engineers, applying the same principles to develop, among other things, intelligent prostheses, biomedical devices and electromechanical systems in general.

This is not the first gridiron battle between Notre Dame and Ohio Northern. The Polar Bears and the Irish met four times on the actual football field between 1908 and 1913, and the Irish won each contest by a wide margin. The score of the last game was 87-0 in favor of Notre Dame.