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Uprising Of The Robots

Southwestern College’s Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program is working to develop scientists to provide hope for Earth. Its imaginative Robotics Club is at the vanguard as it invaded the 19th Annual MESA Olympics and Robotics Challenge. The Sun, 5/21,

Perhaps Klaatu, the messenger from an advanced race, was right when he told his ominous robot, Gort, “There is hope for Earth if the scientists can be reached.”

Southwestern College’s Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program is working to develop scientists to provide hope for Earth. Its imaginative Robotics Club is at the vanguard as it invaded the 19th Annual MESA Olympics and Robotics Challenge.

Hard work by the roboteers paid off. SWC’s Robotics Club had the fastest time in the slalom, a competition requiring that robots be programmed before-hand to maneuver through a challenging course.

Club president Ramiro Rodriguez, 19, a mechanical engineering major, said he had confidence in his bot even though it faced troubles in the practice ring.

“We encountered problems each time we worked on the robot, so we didn’t have something perfect that we really liked so every time we worked on it we would change things,” he said.

Much of the team’s efforts went into the first competition which left them scrambling to pick up the pieces in the second challenge in which robots were required to collect four separate colored Lego blocks from the center of a ring. Getting one of each colored block in the shortest time or within five minutes won. Unsuccessful in this round, the Jaguars became ineligible for the top prize in the competition.

This was the first time Rodriguez competed in the robotics part of the competition, he said, though he won first place in Level 1 for the 2011 Olympics part of the competition. He was quizzed on introductory chemistry, algebra, trigonometry and pre-calculus.

Rodriguez said he and his robot engineers were unsure what to focus on since they did not know what problems the other teams were encountering or their level of experience.

SWC’s MESA program provided the LEGO mindstorms NXT 2.0 kits required to compete. When not preparing for competition the club uses these basic types of machines to comprehend the mechanics of robotics.

“There is a similarity in how this works with a human,” said Rodriguez. “Because this robot has sensors that can be relayed to our eyes or our senses and this transmits information to like a brain, the microprocessor that works with energy. We are getting to know this kind of robot so that in the future we can start working on developing robotics.”

After four years without robotics, Rodriguez scraped the rust off the fallen club for this semester.

“I wanted to establish the club to get members to start working on this and get familiar with robotics,” he said.

Club adviser Dr. Michael George said he has attempted to give the students a little taste of the remarkable future robotics holds.

“My approach is to give opportunities to the people who are really very interested in robotics, plus just general educational stuff for people who want to know what robotics might mean for us in the future,” he said. “I would describe it as eclectic to utilize the resources
of the community college as best we can to help students progress and to help them compete in these competitions. I find robotics to be one of the most exciting developments of the past 15 years.”

Club vice president Belen Rendon-Alvarez, 21, criminal justice major said one does not need to be an engineering geek to have a love for robotics.

“I took some biology classes and
I saw that many scientists and engineers base their designs on animals because of their special abilities, so I would like to see more of that,” she said. “My goals are not related to robotics, but I like the experience and getting involved.”

Robotics is entering a new era. George compared the state of robotics with the aircraft industry in the 1930s in terms of developing certain technologies to get the industry up and running in mainstream society.

“There are certain technical aspects of robotics that are really cutting edge in computer science and very complex and these are very difficult problems that people are working on right now,” said George. “This is tremendously exciting because once these technical problems are solved this is going to be enormously positive industry for human beings.”

Robotic prosthetics controlled by the human brain are advancing and SWC MESA students are standing eagerly at the front line of the research. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Engineering Research Centers program has a new center at University of Washington for sensorimotor neural engineering. One of the main goals of the NSF’s centers program is to promote technological breakthroughs and prepare graduating students for industry positions. In collaboration with MIT, University of Washington and other schools, researchers from SWC will be included in the ongoing research at the UW center.

Dr. Raga Bakhiet, director of MESA at Southwestern College, said the NSF wants people at all levels getting interested in doing this and that is where the college comes in.

“They said we need to have education partners and they wanted underrepresented communities so they invited Southwestern College,” said Bakhiet. “I think also because of our good record of students graduating through MESA and our strong STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) core at SWC.”

Rodriguez attended the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers conference last October where they talked about this issue and said he believes that robotics is currently opening doors in the science community.

“I went to SDSU to see Dr. Daniel Thomas from the University of Washington and he explained to us what his program is and it’s basically a robotic arm that you control with your senses,” said Rodriguez. “Right now we are in the age for this new era. It’s true that robotics will open doors because there is currently research on robots and its great to be a part of this.”

It is a great time for robotics and Rodriguez said he has hopes for the future of the club. He said someday soon the world will have robots like the ones in movies like “Star Wars.”

“I believe it’s going to happen, so this club is a great opportunity to start with especially in community college when you don’t have those sources,” he said.

As SWC becomes a player in robotics, Rodriguez said he hopes that someday there will be an actual robotics class on campus.

“It would be great because you would be more familiar with robotics and you actually have a class that will touch more in detail the aspects of robotics, and robotics is growing really fast,” he said. “A class would emphasize this.”

Published in MESA Activities News Olympics and Robotics Competition