Robots Spring Into Action

Florida Advanced Technological Education (FLATE) Center, the National Science Foundation Center of excellence for high-tech manufacturing is hosting a series of events this Spring focused on robotics. The
events kick into top gear with national robotics week celebrations in April. The initiative reflects FLATE’s efforts in celebrating national robotics week and its role in recognizing robotics technology as a pillar of 21st century American innovation. In keeping with the theme, the overall idea is to “highlight the growing importance of robotics in a wide variety of areas, and emphasizes its ability to inspire technology education.” Desh Bagley, outreach manager for FLATE who also serves as a director for local tournaments and coach for FIRST robotics teams hopes to inform attendees about the types of robots that exist in the marketplace, and different functions they perform.” Through it all she also hopes to highlight FLATE’s mission in helping individuals understand high-tech manufacturing and how robots are a key player in making this happen.

As part of this effort, FLATE is partnering with local engineering and robotics clubs in Tampa bay to showcase applications of robotics technology in industrial and everyday settings. Educators, students from all the five HCC campuses, or anyone interested in robotics and manufacturing, are invited to participate in this interactive event which will be held April 8 at HCC in Brandon from 3:00pm – 7:00pm.

Proposed list of activities include:
  • NAO Robot display and showcase by USF College of Engineering
  • Demo of various robots/robotics software by regional robotics clubs which include FLL, FTC and FRC teams from local schools
  • VEX Robot and LEGO Mindstorms NXT Mini-Challenges
  • Demo of industrial robotic arm and tour of HCC manufacturing lab
  • Information given about BEST Robotics, FIRST Robotics, and VEX Robotics
  • Drawing for a free week of FLATE Robotics and Engineering Camp
On a broader spectrum, FLATE also sponsored two local robotics teams, Programming Thunderbots and 
Techno Whizards, to compete at the regional FIRST Lego League (FLL) competition which was held March 2013 at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The competition this year centered on connecting young people with senior citizens. The first part of the competition involved building the robot. The second component involved conducting in-depth research. As part of the competition, team members were asked to talk to seniors over 65 years old, find out the kinds of challenges they face in everyday life, and then come up with a solution using robots to address these challenges. Solutions could involve manufacturing solutions, medical solutions, or it could be as simple as developing social communications solutions.

Programming Thunderbots invented a robotic pet, named Dr. Pup, for senior citizens that could monitor
health stats and offer companionship. Techno Whizards on the other hand invented a “smart stove” for senior citizens who may forget to turn off the stovetop burners. The “Techno Stove” had pressure sensitive burners that were programmed to signal the relays/contactors in the stove if the burners were on for too long. The stoves were also programmed to call a monitoring service to alert a loved one, or paramedics if the senior citizen does not respond to the beeps and alarms from the stove.

Each team was given 2.5 minutes to complete challenges on a standard robot field. The challenges involved using engineering, programming and STEM-related skills, as well as team work to get to the next step of the competition. The team(s) that demonstrated the best ideas and solutions qualified to compete in the global FLL competition. Only one team from Florida qualified for the global competition this year which will be held in April 2013 in St. Louis, MO.

Through it all, teams gained in-depth knowledge of STEM in a hands-on, problem-based learning
environment. They developed a deeper understanding of these concepts and their relevance in everyday activities. Working together within a team environment and choosing the best ideas and solutions to advance to the next level of the competition also sharpened their teamwork skills. The challenge also introduced team members to societal problems that they would never know, or understand, “much less take a step further and find a life-long, permanent solution.”

For more information on National Robotics Week, or FLATE’s robotics program for middle and high school students visit www.fl-ate.org and www.madeinflorida.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org. To enroll in one of FLATE’s summer robotics camps starting in June 2013, or be part of FLL, FRC and FTC teams contact Desh Bagley at bagley@fl-ate.org.