Climbing the Robotics Ladder

Liz Metzger talks about how the success she found through her independent project has set her up for the rest of the MSR program – and her career.

Climbing the Robotics LadderClimbing the Robotics Ladder

Liz Metzger (MSR ‘23) began her independent project in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program with nothing but an idea. By the end of the 10-week challenge, she created something she'd never seen before – a robot affectionately dubbed Sloth that can climb up and, most surprisingly, down a ladder.   

“I didn’t ever intend for my robot to climb down the ladder,” Metzger said. “It just kind of worked out that it could, and I think it was really cool.” 

The independent project is designed to give students the freedom to build something they are interested in, and showcase what they've learned through their first two quarters in the program. 

“I wanted to make something that was really interesting to look at and would make people pause when they saw it moving,” Metzger said.  

That direction pushed her robotics skills far beyond where they had been before. Building a climbing robot is no small feat, Metzger learned, especially when it comes to creating the hands.  

“I had to have a pretty nuanced hand design to prevent rotating on the bar,” she said. “I spent a lot of time iterating my hand design and tuning my climbing gait until I had something that could work autonomously.”  

Metzger used the MSR makerspace to 3D-print the robot’s hands and laser cut the arms and the base. She felt that combination would be the most efficient timewise while making the entire design stronger. It would have taken much longer for her to 3D-print the entire hand-arm combination as one part, particularly because she had to iterate the hand design so much.  


Metzger said she found motivation in the creative freedom of the independent project. Her excitement was heightened because she was designing something developed with her own ingenuity.   

“The whole reason that I did this project was to prove to myself that I could do all of the steps of building a robot from design to software,” she said. “Doing this project made me a lot more confident in my robotics skills.”  

One of the most important lessons she learned during the course of the project was from things she didn’t do. Because of time constraints of the one-quarter project, she was forced to sacrifice features she would have liked Sloth to have.  

The lesson? 

“Be bold,” she said. “Most of the changes I want to make are things I should have implemented earlier. I was worried about running out of time and I wasn’t sure if I could get them implemented in time, but I should have just made the leap." 

Nevertheless, Metzger is proud that she created, from scratch, a robot capable of autonomous climbing, and she is already seeing how the project will prepare her to succeed during the rest of her time in MSR and throughout her career. 

“I’m already building another robot for my final project, and I think if I hadn’t built a robot for my winter project I would not feel confident enough to do this,” she said. “Building confidence through this project has made me feel like I can accomplish all of the tasks I have left in the program, and that when I get a job, I will be able to figure out whatever I need to do.” 

Learn more about Metzger's independent project.  

McCormick News Article