The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Robot expo inspires young scientists

Drexel University’s Bossone Research Center transformed into a hub where students, ranging from elementary school students to doctoral students, convened April 22 to present and look at robots that can move plastic rings, shoot basketballs, dance and perform music.

The second annual Philadelphia Robotics Expo was organized by Central High School’s RoboLancers club and sponsored by Drexel University. The event, which encourages science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, featured an array of displays, presentations and workshops, with workshop topics such as programming, mechanical, electrical and electro-mechanical. The event was free and open to the public.

The expo drew a large crowd of elementary, middle and high school students. Molly Coats, a fourth grader from Philadelphia, attended the event because she likes “computers and working with electronics.” Her sister, eighth grader Elinor Coats, said that she enjoyed “working with things,” precisely the reason why she chose to attend the Philly Robotics Expo, which offered plenty of opportunities for students to interact with technology.

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John Colavito, a fourth grader from Garnet Valley, Pa., attended the expo in 2011, where he “built a bridge and learned a lot of skills.” This year he is involved in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League and attended a programming workshop at this year’s expo. David Stokarski, another fourth grader from Garnet Valley, said that the expo inspired him to study engineering in the future.

On display was Lego TETRIX, which were the materials used in the FIRST Tech Challenge competition, a robotics scrimmage that allowed participants to guide life-sized robots in an arena.

Lego TETRIX can also be found in the classroom, notably for mathematics and science use. Kenneth Johnson, education consultant for Lego Education North America, explained how they “package material for classroom use, competition use, for gifted and talented programs, and club use for after-school programs.”

He explained how Lego puts together packaging materials along with curriculum materials with help from partners such as Carnegie Mellon. These partners assist Lego Education in writing educational materials that will enhance the learning experience.

Drexel’s Society of Women Engineers was also present at the expo. “We try to support women to choose a career in science, technology, engineering and math,” Emily Buck, the outreach director of the organization and a junior materials science and engineering major, said. Drexel SWE presented the freshman design program mazes.

Angeline Aguinaldo, a freshman biomedical engineering major at Drexel, explained how students use an accelerometer, a sensor programmed in MATLAB, to navigate a ball through a maze. The accelerometer acts as a remote control to move the ball.

Among the fascinating technological innovations on display were Darwin and Hubo, two of the three Drexel humanoid robots. Drexel leads the Hubo Project, which, according to William Hilton, a freshman electrical engineering doctoral student, “aims to create a standard humanoid platform to the United States.”

Hilton explained that Drexel works in the Music Entertainment Technology Laboratory to teach Hubo how to “dance, sing, and play musical instruments and perform in ensembles with humans.”

“Hubo is doing a very good job in inspiring kids. There are hundreds of elementary schoolers, middle schoolers and high schoolers here today,” Hilton said. “Whenever kids see robots, they get excited because there’s something magical about seeing something move almost as if it is a person. I think that inspires a lot of kids to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Hilton said he sees a future in using robots to further engage in the classroom. He added, “In the future, I see a lot of use for robots in high school education. You can use them to teach concepts such as program, geometry and game theory.”