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Robotics team competes in world championship

MILLIGAN, Tenn. (Aug. 4 2021) – As the MATE ROV World Championship for underwater robotics begins tomorrow, Aug. 5, at East Tennessee State University, Milligan University’s robotics team will compete against the best.

Established last winter, Milligan’s team will represent the Appalachian Highlands as one of the first collegiate robotics teams in the region.

“We look forward to representing Milligan as we compete against teams from across the globe,” shared team founder and recent Milligan graduate Cody Mudrack, of Elizabethton, Tennessee. “Robotics was a new field for each student on our team, and we have worked hard over the past year to build a robot from a concept in our heads to a design to an operating machine.”

After a year of interruptions due to COVID-19, the world championships will serve as Milligan’s first competition.

Mudrack, a computer science and information systems major, was instrumental in bringing the robotics team to life. During a conversation with Dr. Ian Lundholm, assistant professor of mathematics at Milligan, Mudrack was encouraged to help recruit other students to the team.

A robotics team requires many academic disciplines including computer science, engineering, business, information systems, graphic design and marketing. The members of the team, all from Tennessee, include recent graduates Ian and Ryan Kelly, from Elizabethton; rising seniors Gracie Crabtree, Henry Holben and Brandon Kelly, of Johnson City; Logan Emory, Sevierville; and Graham Hicks, Jefferson City; along with rising junior Haley Brannan, of Greeneville.

For Holben, the robotics team has given context to the materials he learns in the classroom.

“I frequently find myself looking at a problem connected to our robot and thinking, ‘that’s why my professors spent so much time on this,’” he noted. “For me, it is easier to learn this way. It’s no longer an abstract idea from a textbook.”

Preparing for the MATE ROV competition has required the team to address various challenges. This year’s competition simulates the real-world problems of removing plastics clogging riverways and noting the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Milligan’s underwater robot must complete tasks that help solve these problems.

While robotics was a novel concept for the team, together, they have made great strides.

Last October, the robotics team held an exhibition where they demonstrated their initial robot to campus from Milligan’s pool. Their original prototype successfully maneuvered in the water. This week the team will compete with their second prototype.

Their latest robot includes a clawed arm designed to pick up materials like litter or plastic, a camera and image recognition software that will help determine changes in an underwater landscape over time, and a controller to manage the robot’s functions from above the water.

“To get our robot to this point, everyone had to research and explore more within their major and from other majors,” said Mudrack. “We have learned so much from teammates in other academic areas, and robotics has made learning difficult concepts and theories fun, dynamic and worth the challenge.”

For more information on Milligan’s STEM programs, visit


MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit or call 800-262-8337.

Posted by Chase McGlamery on August 5, 2021.