The buzz and whir of mechanisms and automation flowed through the atrium of the F.W. Olin Center Friday as dozens of students, faculty and staff viewed the creations of the Robots Rule! class Friday.
The demo was part of an afternoon of events to celebrate the unveiling and tours of the new cluster computer, robotics laboratory and human-computer interaction (HCI) laboratory for the Department of Computer Science.
Five students from the intro class for non-majors showcased their Tour Guide robots designed to replicate a human movement while conducting a tour through a mock Union campus.
“We purchased kits with wheels, motors and processors and the students built amplifiers and programs to control the movement and speech,” said Linda G. Almstead, computer science lecturer. “As the robots moved around the campus, they registered radio frequency IDs in the signage enabling the robot to identify the building and announce the location through a text-to-speech board.”
Freshman Ian Singer took the intro class to learn how to program and is now thinking of majoring in Computer Science.
“The best thing about the course was that there were no prerequisites,” said Singer. “It was fun to learn how to make something move with key strokes.”
Following the demos, nearly 100 attendees moved to the auditorium to hear Colin Angle, CEO and co-founder of iRobot, recall how he founded the company with fellow graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
A pioneer in the field of mobile robots who designed the behavior-controlled rovers for NASA, Angle explained iRobot's mission to build cool stuff, deliver great products, have fun, make money and change the world.
“Robots are ideal for replacing the dull, dirty and dangerous duties we perform,” said Angle. “I can query a class of three-year-olds, and they'll each have an idea of what type of robot they'd like to build and why.”
Following Angle's talk, guests attended a recpetion to celebrate the new labs.
“These labs make it possible for us to expand our offerings for low-level non-majors as well as computer science majors,” said Valerie B. Barr, professor and chair of the computer science department. “Next semester we're adding a sophomore level research seminar in HCI in addition to an upper-level elective.”
Funding for the HCI lab was provided in part through a private gift and a grant awarded to Assistant Professors Aaron G. Cass and Chris S.T. Fernandes from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The robotics lab was remodeled and equipped with a grant from the Hewlett Foundation. Funding for the cluster computer was donated by General Electric.