Automation Nation

12.19.11

 

Aligned in a row on a table were Raymond The Roaver, Dance With Me, The Six Legged Spider and NXT Ballet. With minimal prodding, they moved to the right, left, made sound effects, essentially whatever their creators desired.

The masterminds behind these creations with Lego bodies are students in Jack Ryder’s Technology/Robotics class.  For their final project, the students – who range between sophomores and seniors -- were charged with building robots of their own choosing.

For Kean junior John Amey that meant he could allow his creative juices to flow more freely. After carefully constructing his robot, he picked a fun name for it: Dance With Me.

“It can follow me around so when I move to the left, it will move, too,’’ said Amey, an information systems major. “It has sensors that detect distance, color and brightness. It knows when I am standing in front of it.’’

Ryder, the class professor, said the main goal of the course is for students to demonstrate how to design, construct and test automated robots that are autonomous and able to interact with the environment.

In the class, Ryder said, the students created “robots that display behaviors ranging from roaming, seeking light, not seeking light or following lines. They could make their robots scatter like roaches (away from light) or they could seek light. For example, with a flashlight we could have a robot follow you around campus …you could take the robot for a walk.’’

The diversity among the robots was striking. Student David Carias instructed his robot, a six-legged spider, to walk in three directions. Some students built robots that conducted simplistic functions, such as lengthening toilet paper rolls, or more advanced tasks such as dispensing tiny pellets from a toy gun.

“The magic is in the programming,’’ Amey said.

Unlike the majority of the other motion-sensored robot creators, Tamarra Litwin, a Kean senior, instructed her robot not to move at all.

“I made my robot into a music box with a ballerina on top,’’ Litwin said. “I wanted to make something that stayed put. Like an old music box, the faster you turn the key, the more speed it has. If you overwind it to more than 1,300 degrees, it will break, just like an old music box would.’’

Litwin said the final project robot was much easier than other robots they’ve built during the course because “we were able to use any language we wanted to program it.’’

Amey said the course taught him a great deal about robotic concepts “and if I was smart enough I would go into the robotics field. But I don’t want to go to school another eight years.’’

Litwin said the course served as another reminder for students to embrace independent thinking.

“The experience in this class has taught me to think outside the box,’’ she said. “Most professors in classes don’t want you to think that way. They want you to think the same way they do.’’