Land, Sea, Air and Space: Robots Everywhere (CMU Field Trip 2014 Part 3)

The January 31st field trip of the Baden Academy Research Fellows finished up with yet another new world, the Field Robotics Center warehouse. The space was filled with robotics projects that have already changed our world and researchers building new ways to respond to the needs of humanity with robotic technology. Dr. Marcel Bergerman (field roboticist, systems engineer, and co-founder of Green E Academy) gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the most impressive robots to be created. It was filled with such wonders we didn’t know where to look first.

We met miniature robotic airboats that have performed search and rescue in catastrophes like flooding in the Phillipines. Kadie was able to talk again about her website project of raising funds for a Dream Flight Adventure installation in the Media Lab. Her goals of developing a business plan and marketing plan are goals that robotic engineers of CMU share. Many of the robots developed by teams of students and professors become spin off companies. The airboats are further developed and marketed by Platypus, LLC. The space robots being created for Lunar exploration and excavation are further developed and marketed by Astrobotic Technology Inc. The pipe robots that map and inspect underground sewer pipes are further developed and marketed by RedZone Robotics

We met Skyworker, an assembly, inspection and maintenance robot for the International Space Station and other future space installations. Ava was able to talk about her project, leading a team of students in the NASA Design Exploration Challenge. She was able to hear how other researchers are struggling with the problems posed by radiation in space, the challenge of working together as a team, and the difficulty of testing and choosing best designs with resources available.

We met Tessalator, a robot created to inspect and waterproof thousands of individual tiles on the space shuttle’s underside. Human workers needed to wear protection suits and respirators to apply the toxic waterproofing chemicals, and so the Tessaltor became an important aid to human safety. Courtney talked about her project of disassembling a laptop and teaching students how to respect equipment. Dr. Bergerman asked some excellent questions about the toxicity of some computer parts for Courtney to research back in the lab.

We met the Groundhog that used a laser to scan subterranean caves and create accurate 3D maps of deep mines. Skylar was able to talk briefly about her project using GarageBand to create music. The project has included some research into the physics of sound and how sound sensors work on robots. Engineering decisions on what type of sensor will work best in given conditions will be explored further as we move onto robotics unit later this year.

Our tour ended with a journey out of this world. Zoë was there at the entrance to the next warehouse. She is a robot designed for the deserts of distant planets prepared to assist astrobiologists study life on other worlds. The robot has been used to investigate how life survives in our own Atacama Desert.

Red Rover, a pyramid shaped robot, is heading to the moon! Developed as part of theGoogle Lunar X Prize, Red Rover will explore the surface of the equatorial regions of the Moon.

Our own NASA scientist, 4th grade Ava, having seen these before didn’t get excited until she saw Boss. Boss is the self-driving SUV that made history and won the DARPA Urban Challenge by driving swiftly and safely while sharing the road with human drivers and other robots.Ava, looking forward to the day that her robot car can take her where she needs to go, posed with her hero – an autonomous robotic Chevy Tahoe equipped with over 500,000 lines of code. Ahhh – these kids and their heroes!


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