Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Establishes Robotics Initiative
Elements of computer programming, technology, mathematics, science and engineering are coming together in a new robotics initiative at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology that could lead to students earning the college's first robotics certificate.
The new Multidisciplinary Educational Robotics Initiative (MERI) has been eagerly anticipated by students, faculty members and companies that are clamoring for graduates with robotics skills and programming knowledge.
Matthew Boutell, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering, compares robotics to the popularity of the personal computer industry in the 1970s.
"It (robotics) is ready to explode. It is where technology is headed in the future, and a familiarity with robotics will give Rose-Hulman students and graduates an advantage in their careers," he says.
Robotics is a multidisciplinary field, blending mechanics, electronics, controls, and software, and requiring engineers to have deep enough knowledge where they can contribute within their specialty, but broad enough knowledge to understand other engineers. They must also be able to work in multidisciplinary teams.
Rose-Hulman's MERI program, supported by a Faculty Success Grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., strives to meet all of these objectives, according to David Fisher, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
"Engineers in the future will need to understand and appreciate the components of the entire system at a high level to communicate with others, but tend to contribute primarily in a concentration (areas like kinematics, controls or computer programming)," he says.
So, rather than have a robotics major, Rose-Hulman's new robotics initiative will include students who are enrolled in academic majors that most interest them: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science or software engineering. They then earn the robotics certificate by taking seven courses covering a variety of areas, depending on major course of study. Some of the courses on the list cover such topics as mobile robotics, robotics engineering, artificial intelligence, digital systems, wireless systems, mechatronic systems, image processing and microsensors. A senior-year multidisciplinary robotics project will cap the experience.
The robotics initiative started this fall with 18 freshmen and sophomore students enrolled in an Introduction to Robotics Programming pilot course. Student teams recently demonstrated Roomba robots (minus the vacuum cleaner) to follow a wall or trace out a given pattern in a competition. Finally, robots from two teams were squared off in a one-minute race to use autonomous infrared sensing technology to find and tag a third wandering robot, designed by course professors.
"Any engineer is going to have to know something about robotics since they're playing an important role in today's society," stated Malhon Godwin, a freshman mechanical engineering major from Blue Grass, Iowa. "I know that even though I'm going to be a mechanical engineer, I'm going to have to be able to work with computer scientists, electrical engineers, and people from other engineering and science backgrounds in a work climate."
Virginie Frizon, a freshman computer science major from West Bloomfield, Mich., added, "Robotics links several disciplines together -- computer programming, mechanics, electrical circuits and problem solving. It's a thrilling challenge that I like exploring."
Other students, like Karl Heidtbrink, a freshman computer science major from Paducah, Ky., enjoy that the class allows students to apply mathematics and physics skills learned in other freshman-year courses into robotics. He was also interested in expanding his knowledge of computer programming and aspects of artificial intelligence.
Rose-Hulman's MERI program hopes to help the college attract students who have robotics experience through the FIRST Robotics, Botball, First Lego League and other national competitions. These students are ready to learn more about programming, electronics, controls, artificial intelligence, robot vision and kinematics, according to Carlotta Berry, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
That would include Emma Barrasso, a sophomore engineering physics major, who was a member of her high school's FIRST Robotics team in Casper, Wy.
"I was part of the robot construction team (in high school) and had very little knowledge about how the robots actually worked," she stated. "Now, I'm getting the opportunity to program the robots. It's very challenging. They don't always go where you want them to go. That's part of the learning process."
Steven Chenoweth, associate professor of computer science and software engineering, has also been a part of the MERI faculty development team.
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