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.

Relevancy of Robotics in sTEm Education

Everyone loves to see robots in action, but how are they relevant, perhaps even critical to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education? Programs such as FIRST® Robotics are growing by leaps and bounds in schools nationwide, and “robotics” is a popular summer camp offering. Why? Kids love robots! And when students ask to be part of an activity that teaches not only STEM curriculum, but learning and teamwork, parents love them too. FLATE’s Robotics camps have been an important part of FLATE outreach to middle and high school students since 2005 and have served 587 campers to date.

Part of FLATE’s National Science Foundation mission is to provide education and experiences promoting
Florida advanced manufacturing college and career pathways, and for many students, the educational punch packed by robotics camp is an ideal way to jumpstart the process toward interest in adding more STEM subjects in school. As well, while math and science subjects abound, technology and engineering subjects, especially in middle school, may be harder to find. Robotics camps and programs are stepping up to fill the void in technical and engineering education (the T & E side of sTEm), for the average middle school student. Parents of summer campers have let FLATE know, through surveys, that schools are not offering enough technology, engineering, and robotics curriculum and coursework, and parents wish this would change. In response to this articulated need, FLATE has developed curriculum focused on industry connected high tech manufacturing scenarios (based on real Florida companies) and also uses summer robotics camps and open house events in HCC’s high tech engineering technology lab to raise awareness about technology and engineering college and careers using robots as one hook to engage and interest students.

Early exposure to robotics through camps, competitions, and sTEm programs, especially if not offered as part of traditional school curriculum, introduces students to the world of automation and provides the opportunity to explore high tech industrial careers and inventive concepts and applications. In speaking about robotics camps, Dr. Row Rogacki, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, believes camps “meet a real need for local students interested in technology.” Indeed, school budgets may present an obstacle for providing state-of-the art “hands on experiences” using equipment in the classroom, and this has contributed to the technology and engineering gap in secondary technology education. New models have high schools working with colleges for laboratory resource sharing, dual enrollment, and partnerships with vendors.

Another important consideration for promoting technology relevant robotics curriculum in schools is
introducing middle and high school teachers to advanced technology curriculum, such as 3-D modeling, and providing teachers with the background, learning resources, and partnerships they need to provide relevant sTEm curriculum using robotics and automated processes. To this end, FLATE hosts engineering technology summer institutes, summer camps for teachers, and sTEm workshops for teachers. Teacher workshops in recruitment strategies for girls to STEM curriculum and “Green” technologies are popular with advisors as well as teachers. As a parent recently shared, “[robotics] is a program that should and could be incorporated in the school systems – it is learning, fun, and hands on which is needed in our students education.” Involving all levels of education providers, as well as parents in awareness of the relevance of technology, engineering, and robotics is critical to supplying tomorrow’s high tech workforce.

To register for FLATE’s 2013 Summer Institute, contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org,. For more information about FLATE’s 2013 Summer Camp for Teachers, GreenTech, contact Dr. Marie Boyette at mboyette3@hccfl.edu. To register for the 2013 “All Girls” and other robotic camps, visit our website at http://www.fl-ate.org/projects/camps.html, or contact Desh Bagley, outreach manager at bagley@fl-ate.org.

sTEm–at-Work Puzzle #34: Valve Selection for OJ transfer

A process technician for Tropicana in Bradenton, Florida is part of a team that is renovating a major transfer line from the juice processing plant to the packaging facility. The task at hand is to install a value with its computer controlled actuator. The technician knows that the value to be installed must have minimal impact on the juice flow when it is just starting to open to avoid unwanted plugging of the nozzles delivering juice to their containers. The Technician also knows that this project only involves two choices for valves; the “U-Betch-Em –V222 and the “U-Betch-Em” V333. The Tech examines the intrinsic valve characteristics plots provided by “U-Becth-Em” and immediately knows which valve is the correct valve for this application.

The technician installed the “U-Becth-Em V222. YES or NO.

Submit your answers under this blog post, or post it on www.fl-ate.org.

What It Takes to Be a Robotics Technician: The Nuts & Bolts

Just what is inside a robot and whatever does it take to be a robotics technician? In a quest to answer this
question for students and parents attending the recent FLATE’s national robotics week open house, FLATE’s Executive Director, Dr. Marilyn Barger, started with the O*Net site for robotics technicians. The official NAISC code is 17-3024.01—Robotics Technician, and the short (but official) definition of this occupation is someone who builds, installs, tests, and/or maintains robotic equipment, or related automated production systems.

The summary report for this occupation (and all others in the O*net) is presented to readers in concise
statements in the following categories: tools and technology; knowledge; skills; abilities; work activities; work context; job zone; education; interests; work styles; work values, and related occupations. There are also links to job openings and job search engines as well as national wage data. Click here to go to the robotics technician page. There is a lot more information that you can download if you look behind the “details” tab. This tab also reveals how important and how frequent the various work activities are.

According to O*net, here is what robotics technicians need to know, what they need to be able to do, and some of their work activities. This is all a pretty technical description of a robotics technician. You can find more visual video descriptions by watching one of the “Made in Florida” videos, on “robotics technicians”. You will also get to see the very cool, high-tech manufacturing workplaces where robotics technicians work.

click to enlarge image
Starting with salary and wages, and employment, you can find out that the average 2012 annual wage for
this occupation is $51,820, and that there are approximately 16,000 people in the U.S working in that occupation. Not surprisingly, the 3,200 openings anticipated in this decade (2010-2020) are primarily in manufacturing and scientific and technical services. There is also a link to a much related occupation of electromechanical technicians and nearly 70% of the 16,000 robotics technicians have an Associate’s degree. Students can find good jobs as robotics technician after completing an Associate’s degree in engineering technology in Florida with one of several specialized tracks: advanced manufacturing; electronics; or digital design, or others at a state or community college near you

For more information visit www.madeinflorida.org, and www.fl-ate.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, and Dr. Marie Boyette, associate director of FLATE at boyete@fl-ate.org.

Robotics Open House Serves as a Hotspot for STEM & Robotics Enthusiasts

Relevancy of robots in industrial and everyday settings is undeniably apparent. Today robots don’t look, nor act like the machines of yesteryears. The “in” thing these days is “humanoid robots.” It may be a very 21st century concept, but it is an evolving term that speaks of the here and now in terms of how robots have come to assume and assert an identity of their own. Now more than ever robots display higher degree of humanistic characteristics, and are capable of reflecting higher level of human emotions like reading to autistic children, or serving as companions for the elderly, or conducting high risk operations for law enforcement officials venturing into territories restricted to humans.

Indeed robots are everywhere, and there is a national as well as regional “push” to get students and the
community at large engaged in STEM using robotics as a common platform. Given this trajectory in latest technological trends, FLATE—the National Science Foundation Center of Excellence in manufacturing at Hillsborough Community College—recently partnered with local engineering and robotics clubs in Tampa bay to celebrate national robotics week. The event was featured in National Robotics Week calendar, and showcased the various dimensions of robots and robotics technology at play. Robots project a fun side of engineering, says Juan Calderon, an electrical engineering student conducting research at the bio robotics lab at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Robots serve as a “hook” in helping steer students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), said Juan. He, along with his fellow researcher, Johann another USF student who will also be serving as a robotics instructor at the FLATE robotics camps this summer, were in charge of the NAO robot—a humanoid robot—interactive demonstration at the robotics open house.

FLATE’s robotics open house served as a hotspot for STEM and robotics enthusiasts and brought students, educators, parents and industry professionals from across the Tampa bay region. Julia and Dillon
Perrigault-eng, were among those who were excited seeing the NAO robot in action. “Robots are cool” said Julia. Dillon who aspires to be an engineer says he loves robots as “they can be programmed to do anything humans want them to do.” Haven Rubellios and Mya Arong, 5th graders at Morgan Woods Elementary school were excited to see robotics at play. “We’re like little engineers building robots, problem solving, and working as a team” Mya and Haven tried their hand at the bottle touch challenge, and learned about rotations, speed and distance which they say will help while competing in regional robotics competition later in the year. Trey and Bradley share a similar opinion about robots. “I have always loved robots, and want to build one when I grow up” said Trey. Bradley and Trey who plan on attending FLATE’s robotics camp this summer says the open house gave them a chance to see how to build electric cars, their engines, and learned about 3D printers. The fun part of their day, they said, was watching the robotic arm, which according to Trey has real-world applications in terms of using for excavations and deep sea explorations.

The robotics open house was an educational experience, not only for first timers, but for returning campers like Colton Lewis. “Robots have always fascinated me. Programming is challenging but fun.” Colton who wishes to pursue a career in engineering for the military, has attended all of FLATE’s robotics introductory and advanced camp. He says the experience helped him understand advances in technology and the options that are available to him, and developed problem-solving and critical thinking skills which according to Colton are “keys to succeeding in STEM.” He is currently enrolled in FLATE’s high school camp this summer, and recently won the Florida state STEM fair competition.

In addition to the NAO robot demonstration, attendees also got to see first-hand use and integration of
robotics/robotics software used by robotics FLL, FTC and FRC teams from local schools. Graham Peterson and Daniel Brown showcased the robot they built for the regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). “We used a lot of industry level electronics to build the robot” said Graham. For programming, they used C++, for drive train they used a four, six wheel set-up. Each of the wheels had a roller on it, with a vector at 45 degree angles so they could effectively maneuver speed and direction.

Graham and Daniel, who are members of the robotics club at Middleton High School and have attended robotics camps from introductory through high school level camps, agree “technical skills are central to any engineering field.” Being part of a larger network of robotics teams have not only helped sharpen their understanding of electronics and programming, but have also helped them strategize and work effectively as a team. They hope their demo will inspire similar interests among fellow students attending the robotics open house to develop/sharpen their technical as well as leadership skills, and motivate them to join local/regional robotics team.

Not to leave parents and educators out, the robotics open house had much to offer to those on the
other side of the continuum. Kristy Long and Carissa Brady teachers at Morgan Woods elementary school in Tampa said the robotics open house gave them “insight into the possibilities,” and what they as educators can do with knowledge of robotics. “Exposure to these technologies equips students with the skills needed for the future workforce” said Kristy. “It develops critical thinking skills, and helps students’ understand real-world applications of what they are doing in class” Carissa said.

Fonda Moore, a career counselor for a local school in Tampa agrees STEM-focused jobs tend to pay higher salaries, and is currently in high demand for skilled/qualified professionals. Moore who was attending FLATE’s open house with her son Julian Moore applauds FLATE and HCC for making these resources and opportunities available to the local community students, educators and parents. STEM jobs are not so much hands-on, as they are minds-on, says Moore. “These jobs help students advance career wise, teaches them life skills as it keeps them stimulated and is the way of the future” Moore said.

For more information on FLATE’s robotics program, contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org. To enroll in one of FLATE’s, STEMulating robotics camps this summer contact Desh Bagley, outreach manager at bagley@fl-ate.org, or visit www.madeinfolorida,org and www.fl-ate.org.

Florida’s Biotechnician Assistant Credentialing Exam

FLATE has partnered with the biotechnology and biomanufacturing sector since 2008 in an effort to meet its
specific workforce needs. One long-term partner and supporter has been the Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology at the University of Florida (UF CERHB), which was instrumental in helping Hillsborough Community College (HCC) and other colleges, as well as K12 school districts, jump start biotechnology programs across the state. According to Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE, UF CERHB has provided curriculum and professional development for hundreds of educators across the state over the years. To enhance their support, UF CERHB stepped up to fill the gap by developing a blended assessment system for Florida schools that meets the state requirement for an aligned industry credential for CAPE (Career and Professional Education) academies.

UF CERHB through funding from Florida’s Department of Education’s, Division of Career and Adult Education, has developed an industry recognized exam to assess core skills and knowledge sets identified by industry, which are also represented within the standards of the secondary program and postsecondary introductory biotechnology courses. As an emerging and very diverse industry, a national certification does not exist. The exam serves as an assessment leading to a Florida industry-recognized credential, which is critical not only for added value to the secondary program and employment opportunities for students, but also to allow for appropriate FTE (full-time equivalent) funding to participating secondary schools under Florida’s CAPE act. In addition, students who successfully pass the exam with a score of 80%, or higher will be awarded the industry-recognized certificate as a “Bio technician Assistant” through UF CERHB, and will earn a minimum of three postsecondary credit hours toward an Associate of Science degree at the state colleges offering programs in biotechnology.

The instrument was developed to assess student understanding of core theoretical knowledge and practical
applications as outlined by industry (Banner Center for Biotechnology Needs Assessment and state-wide Focus Group Studies, 2007-2010). These have been delineated as “academic” and “performance” standards within the Florida Department of Education’s Career and Adult Education Manufacturing (secondary) frameworks of program number 8736000, which have also been aligned to the postsecondary frameworks of Introduction to Biotechnology, and the corresponding methods laboratory course. For the development process of the exam, these standards were aligned to corresponding test questions.

The exam consists of a written component (multiple choice, matching), as well as a practical component to assess mastery of equipment and techniques. Within the written portion of the test bank, the questions have been organized into question pools to allow for randomization of each individual test. The practical exam consists of 35 skills/techniques, with a corresponding rubric for mastery. A total of 100 points may be earned for each exam, with a cut score of 80% required for credentialing.

The exam has been vetted by the state’s industry organization BioFlorida, providing the state with an “industry-recognized” tool for awarding certification. BioFlorida committee members were presented the exam questions which were aligned with the corresponding course/industry standards. Committee members provided feedback on the scientific accuracy of individual questions, how well the exam questions align with the academic and performance standards, and overall thoughts on how well the exam and program reflect the knowledge and skill-base for core concept understanding and practical skills required for entry-level support positions in the industry.

The Biotechnician Assistant Credential was approved by Workforce Florida, Inc., and added to Florida’s Comprehensive Industry Certification List for the CAPE act beginning in the 2011/12 school year. The written (on-line) component of the exam is administered at UF CERHB approved testing sites via Cornerstone on Demand hosted by Intelladon. Access to the exam is controlled through the use of time-sensitive usernames and passwords assigned to approved test-site locations. The practical exam is also administered at UF CERHB approved testing sites, which must document the availability of required equipment, and qualified practical assessment proctor(s).

Participant registration, test-site registration, and proctor/practical assessment registration, documentation and instructions are available at the UF-CERHB website http://www.cerhb.ufl.edu/education-center, or contact Tamara Mandell at tmandell@cerhb.ufl.edu. For information on upcoming FLATE’s biotechnology summer camp for high school teachers in Florida visit www.fl-ate.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org.

Making Real-Life Connections with the World of Renewable Energy

FLATE (Florida Advanced Technological Education Center) in conjunction with Hillsborough Community College (HCC) south shore campus is organizing its third, annual summer energy camp. The camp will be held July 8-11 at HCC-South Shore Campus in Ruskin, FL. During the camp, 25 students from Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin, currently enrolled in Hillsborough County’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, will participate in fun, yet challenging, hands-on activities targeted to make real-life connections to the world of renewable energy. Students will engage in a variety of hands-on activities that will introduce them to energy concepts including fossil fuels, their environmental impact, and the science of electricity generation. They will also learn about solar cells, wind energy, environmental care, fuel-cells, home efficiency and ocean energy.

FLATE’s energy camp is part of a network of energy camps being offered simultaneously at Tallahassee Community College, Florida State College at Jacksonville, and Brevard Community College. Nina Stokes, camp coordinator and project manager for FESC (Florida Energy Systems Consortium) says "the camps focus on fun, yet challenging, hands-on activities that enable students to make real-life connections to world of renewable energy technologies.” Stokes says “as the production of renewable energy continues to grow, camps like this help educate tomorrow’s citizens about issues that will directly impact them/their environment in the future."

The energy camps are made possible through a partnership between FLATE, HCC, the University of South Florida and FESC (Florida Energy Systems Consortium) which is a consortium of Florida universities established by the Florida Legislature. FLATE and FESC have worked in collaboration with the National Science Foundation-funded Energy Systems Technology Technicians (EST²) project team to design a new specialization for the engineering technology degree and associated college credit certificate in alternate/renewable energy. The EST² project team comprises of individuals from Brevard Community College, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Tallahassee Community College and Hillsborough Community College.

Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE says “FLATE’s partnership with FESC is part of a statewide initiative to support industries in the existing and emerging energy sectors by defining the knowledge and skills required for their technician workforce.” With support from industry and partnerships with the Florida Department of Education, Barger hopes “to build a comprehensive and cohesive educational and industry pathway for Florida’s new energy.” For more information on the energy camp contact Nina Stokes at 813.259.6587/stokes@fl-ate.org. For information on FESC contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at 813.259.6578/barger@fl-ate.org, or visit http://fl-ate.org/projects/fesc.html.