ORLANDO, Florida — The Clemson University Iron Agrobotics Team seized second-place honors at the 2016 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Robotics Student Design Competition in Orlando.

The Clemson team, competing for the first time, was tops in the U.S. and defeated agricultural engineering juggernauts Kansas State, Texas A&M and Iowa State, among others. Zhejiang University (China) secured first place overall. Kansas State had won every previous robotics competition since the contest’s inception in 2006.

Clemson team standing behind robots.

Cengiz Koparan, Chris Miller, Jonathan Rodriguez, Arnaldy Medina and Bulent Koc.

The team included agricultural mechanization and business majors Chris Miller, Prospect, Kentucky; Nicholas Rogers, Unicoi, Tennessee; Jordan Breland, Ruffin, South Carolina; Kevin Gibson, Easley; plant and environmental sciences graduate student Cengiz Koparan, Ankara, Turkey; and Arnaldy Medina and Jonathan Rodriguez, visiting engineering students from Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.

“They did a superb job,” said Bulent Koc, assistant professor of agricultural mechanization and business and team adviser. “The club was just formed in January. In the time leading up to the competition, they spent countless hours working together to build and perfect the robots and software solutions, and they had to overcome several obstacles at the competition.”

The teams were challenged with designing and constructing a fully automated robotic system for transferring oranges from a harvester to a processing plant. Two mobile robots were required, one to pick and transfer the fruit to a second robot that then carried the fruit to a processing plant. Fruit was simulated using orange and green ping-pong balls, representing ripe and unripe oranges. The second robot then had to sort the oranges by color.

Problems came when sorting the fruit. Since the lighting in the competition arena was different from the lighting in the design laboratory, the team had to recalibrate the color-reading sensors and make software adjustments on the fly to make the system work correctly.

“Our team was determined to complete the challenge presented to us for the competition, and our goal was to finish in the top three,” said Koparan. “It means a lot to be in the second place as a team from Clemson University because this was the first time in a competition for our club.”

“We have an incredible team of people here at Clemson,” Miller added. “We’d been around as an organization for only seven months and we were still able to put two robots on the table that were better than every other major American ag school at the competition. Being a Clemson student is all about striving to be the best and achieving the goals we set for ourselves.”

Miller said that the team’s experience working on full-scale harvest machines also helped.

“We took ideas that we had seen in our work and applied them to the robots. We wanted robots that not only successfully completed the task at hand, but that could be feasibly scaled up to a large-scale machine,” he said.

Archer Daniels Midland Company donated $2,500 to assist with robot construction materials and competition expenses. The Clemson Iron Agrobotics Club is dedicated to developing new technologies in the field of robotics with an emphasis on agricultural applications and efficiency.