Examining the Overarching Applications and Integration of Robots and Robotics Technology

Across the country and in the great state of Florida, robots have been a nexus of thousands of youth of all ages. They have stolen the hearts of so very many, both young and old. Intramural and competitive teams in dozens of different leagues and organizations rival sports teams for their popularity. School districts across Florida are trying to find the best way to provide access to robotics for all their students. They are trying to find ways and means to have as many teachers as possible trained in robotics so they can use robots to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) principles and processes as well as “robotics technology.”

Robots offer a single platform to teach STEM subjects both individually and/or integrated together. There
are a lot of fundamental processes and principles of STEM at multiple levels in designing, building and programming robots. Problem and project-based learning come to life when using robots to help students learn. In the context of this integrated, contextual learning, students can learn by discovery and develop creativity necessary for invention. Robotic platforms require students and teachers to develop strong soft skills including communication skills and teamwork. Robots are also ripe platforms for developing trouble-shooting skills.

Robots can now be found everywhere in many industrial and business sectors with innumerable applications. Close your eyes and just imagine a job you don’t like to do because it’s tedious, repetitive, dangerous, or just plain boring! On that same token, what do robots do for manufacturers? From the moment materials arrive to be processed until the final products leave the manufacturing plant, robots help get many jobs done. They are used for stacking and retrieving components for assembly as well as for storing final product inventory in warehousing settings. They do welding, assembly, inspections, filing, packaging and labeling. Robots can be designed to do almost any task you can imagine.

Valpak in Pinellas County has a state-of-the-art “warehouse” where bundles of sorted blue envelopes wait for their mail date to arrive. Once these are picked up, an unmanned robotic vehicle makes it way down a long narrow aisle to collect the desired pallet. The box is retrieved from storage by another robot that identifies the pallet, moves it from the shelf to the vehicle, and confirms if it is the correct pallet and vehicle using tracking devices. The unmanned vehicle delivers the goods to a conveyor, which takes it to the loading docks. Technically, this is called an “automated storage and retrieval system,” or ARS with robots being just one of the key components to make it all happen.

Farther south on Florida’s east coast, Hoerbiger Corporation, is just one of many manufacturers that have recently installed robotic assembly lines. One such line assembles valves that are part of the compressor system of ThemoKing refrigerated vehicles. Components produced in other parts of the facility, make their way to this cell where five robotic arms, multiple part feeders, sensors work in unison to assemble all parts. It’s amazing and mesmerizing to watch.

The USF CAMLS (Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation) in Tampa is teaching surgeons
the latest techniques for robotic surgeries. In Ocala and Pensacola, the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) pioneer technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities, often with robotic applications. Every university in the state has research engineers and scientists working in centers focused on some aspect of robotics including machine intelligence, nonlinear controls, and robotic mechanical systems. Material science and technology is another important aspect of robotics that focusses on determining the best material to use for a robot doing a particular job.

There are many more examples of robotic research and production activity in Florida. Given its prominence, it is important to help students understand that robots are not just for fun. They can be used as a platform to teach STEM concepts, and as such, comprise growing numbers of career opportunities that support Florida manufacturing businesses. Industrial robots have also raised the bar for many manufacturing jobs and careers. Manufacturing technicians today need to have a working knowledge of how different machines work independently and/or in cohort with each other and with people via computer codes. Students can focus their studies on the mechanical parts, electrical parts, or the communication part of a robot.

Now that you are well versed with robots, the technology behind them, and their applications, I invite you to read rest of the stories in this special, robotics-centered edition of the FLATE Focus. From our report on national robotics week, to our observations on what it takes to be a 21st century robotics technician we explore every aspect of robotics and its impact on students, educators as well as industry. For those inclined toward renewable and alternative energy related news bytes, tune in to our story about upcoming energy camp offerings, or sign up and go green at the “Greentech for Girls” summer camp for teachers. Before time and space runs out, do consider robotics camps for your students, and as always take a stab in solving our sTEm puzzle of the moth. These and many more stories in this edition of the FLATE Focus.