Student Competitions Student News

New teams and tech for Snowplow Competition

With temperatures that average below freezing, hours of sunlight that are few and far between, and ice skates a necessary mode of transportation, it is sometimes difficult to remember why we live in Minnesota. Especially in the dead of winter.

But when the first snowflakes started to settle around the Dunwoody campus late this fall, you could feel the excitement of the season starting to build – and not for the reasons one might expect.

Team Snow Devil, Team Wendigo and Team Wechuge will compete in the 10th Annual Snowplow Competition Saturday December 18, 2020. The competition is being held at Dunwoody.

Since 2010, university and college teams from around the United States and Canada have come together to participate in the Autonomous Snowplow Competition, started by ION, the Institute of Navigation. A competition quite unique to snow covered states, teams design, build and program a fully autonomous snowplow that “uses navigation and control technology to clear a path of snow without human interaction.”

Last year the competition was held in Toronto, Canada, and prior to that was held during the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. This will be the first time that the competition will be held on the Dunwoody campus – and Robotics & Manufacturing Dean E.J. Daigle could not be more excited. This is his 10th year participating in the competition, and though there are a lot of moving parts to get ready for the three day event, he is thrilled to be showcasing the Dunwoody campus, and community, to participants and visitors alike. 

Not only will this be the first year Dunwoody will host the event, this will also be the first year that the College will enter three different snowplows into the competition. 

With eight competitions under its “plow” and a Third Place finish last year, the Snow Devil is the veteran of the Dunwoody brigade. The Wendigo will be competing for the third time and coming off of a First Place win after last year’s competition. These plows have a solid foundation in place and are updated year after year with exciting new technologies and modifications to keep the competition on their toes.

Building a New Plow

However, the Wechuge (pronounced way-chu-gay) is the newest platform from Dunwoody and has been constructed from the bottom up in just a few short months. This includes everything from the mechanical and software design, to the welding and fabrication, and the bright red paint job. The Wechuge is hoping to channel the power of its namesake with a strong competition debut.

Students test drive Wechuge, the newest snowplow platform.

Constructing this new platform was no small task and has been a collaborative effort with students from departments all across Dunwoody.

Jeremy Berg is currently completing a degree in Industrial Engineering Technology, and is a veteran member of the snowplow team as well as an ‘18 Automated Systems & Robotics graduate. Berg’s focus was on the design of the new plow, which he wanted to be simple, straightforward and accessible. With autonomous robots becoming more prevalent, he wanted to make sure that he was designing something that could be easily and efficiently reproduced, as well as something that seemed approachable. Removable, clear side paneling was used intentionally, not only to help from a mechanical and maintenance perspective, but as a way to showcase the robot to the general public, “allowing any person walking down the street the ability see what’s happening inside of the vehicle.” 

Jeremy Berg, Industrial Engineering Technology student and veteran snowplow team member, designs Wechuge.

Andy Hansen is currently in his third semester of the welding program, and was looking for more opportunities outside of the classroom to gain experience – not only in fabrication and manufacturing, but on the project management side as well. 

“It’s not a competition you would find in Texas,” Hansen said, having moved up to Minnesota from Austin, but he was excited to stretch himself by helping to facilitate this project and keep things moving forward.

Welding student Andy Hanson helps fabricate Dunwoody’s newest snowplow in the Welding shop.

With a tight timeline to construct the platform, the team knew it would be a challenge to bring all of the pieces together. Translating initial computer and 3D models into a physical, fabricated piece does not always go off without a hitch. 

“Just because it exists on a computer, doesn’t mean that it will exist in reality,” Hansen said. 

But that is just the kind of collaboration and learning that he is most excited for. From prototyping, to communicating challenges, and working with others like Berg to find solutions, Hansen enjoyed working with a team of people from different backgrounds and disciplines to pull this project together, much like you would while working out in the workforce. 

Members of the Snowplow team build Wechuge. The Snowplow teams draw members from three different departments and seven different programs.

Daigle also notes that this is the most diverse team they have ever seen from Dunwoody, with students from three different departments and seven different programs represented. Historically the teams have always had members from Robotics, Electronics, and Engineering programs, but this year you will find participants from Automotive, Automated Systems & Robotics, Electronics Technology, Welding, Software Engineering, Industrial Engineering Technology, and Engineering Drafting & Design. 

Donald Posterick, Software Engineering student, writes a program for the newest plow.

While the 20 or so students and three faculty advisors will all be designated to one of the three platforms, when it comes to getting these machines up and running it really is all hands-on deck.

Welding students fabricate the body of the newest plow.

Dunwoody, and the seven other teams from Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Quebec are set to compete in the Autonomous Snowplow Competition January 16-18, 2020, at Dunwoody College of Technology.