Battling robots and voting machines that don't just record the votes – they do the voting, too – are among the attractions scheduled for the annual University of Illinois Engineering Open House this week.
This year's open house will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, mostly in buildings on and around the UI Engineering Quad clustered near Springfield Avenue between Wright Street and Goodwin Avenue in Urbana.
Kenney Gymnasium, 1406 W. Springfield Ave., U, is headquarters for the open house, one of the largest student-run events at the UI. That's where visitors can obtain event guides containing maps of and information about the 140 planned exhibits, 30 more than last year. Guided tours also leave from the gym.
Shuttle buses will run from the Assembly Hall parking lot to the open house and back from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Complete information is available on the Web at eoh.ec.uiuc.edu/eoh.cfm?page=0001.
Organizers expect as many as 30,000 visitors, said Jenny Chen, a UI senior in computer science from Naperville, who's the director of the 2004 open house.
This year's theme is "Engineering Ingenuity." Chen said it's more than a phrase that rolls off the tongue. The intent is to emphasize how engineering can be employed to solve real problems.
Exhibits will cover hot topics such as the Mars exploration missions, including pictures and models of spacecraft and information on the Martian environment, and bioterrorism, focusing on biomedical engineering's role in developing vaccines, rapid diagnosis methods and cures to combat the threat.
In addition, exhibits will look at controlling a robotic arm through the movement of a human operator's hand, computerized artificial life employing an electronic neural network mimicking the brain, nanotechnology, DNA chips and wind tunnel testing, among other things.
Two of the more popular open house events, the robot competition for college students and the "Rube Goldberg machine" design contest for high school students, will take place in Kenney Gym and the Illini Union respectively.
This year the Rube Goldberg machines have to select, mark and cast an election ballot in 20 steps or more, the wackier the better in homage to Goldberg, the satirical cartoonist known for his drawings of ridiculously complex machines for performing mundane tasks.
A total of 28 teams from around Illinois are entered, said Megan Zachar, a UI junior in general engineering from Palatine and the contest director.
The winners get to compete for the state Rube Goldberg title in April and could go to the nationals in Wisconsin. Zachar said the contest will run from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, with machines available for viewing until 3 p.m. Visitors get the opportunity to vote for their favorite voting machine in a "people's choice" election.
The robot competition – officially the W.J. "Jerry" Sanders Creative Design Contest sponsored by computer chip maker Advanced Micro Devices and its founder, UI alumnus Sanders – will pit the student-built robots against each other in collecting and assembling puzzle pieces.
Christos Bais, a UI junior in electrical engineering from Texas who's competition co-director, said Sanders, now AMD's chairman, is to kick off the event personally Friday morning. A total of 23 teams are registered.
The robots – some operated by remote control, others autonomous – can't touch each other for the first five minutes of the 10-minute rounds. After that, pretty much anything goes.
"We try to give them a fair chance to get stuff done and then we allow contact," Bais said.
You can reach Greg Kline at (217) 351-5215 or via e-mail at email@example.com.