By Daniel Barber, Ph.D., UCF Institute for Simulation and Training
In partnership with the SFC Paul Ray Smith, Simulation and Training Technology Center (STTC), a loyal supporter of STEM education, the Institute for Simulation and Training ACTIVE Lab participates in several activities to promote robotics to different age groups and provides hands-on experience in robot development for UCF students.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) Creed states “Integrity, scholarship, community, creativity, and excellence are the core values that guide our conduct, performance, and decisions.” One core approach taken in support of this creed is a commitment to reaching out to our students and the general public to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) research and opportunities.
Otronicon is an annual four day event celebrating interactive technology and how it shapes the way society lives, works, and plays. It provides a showcase of the latest and greatest military and commercial simulators and video gaming technology. A key feature of this event is interactive demonstrations of new and upcoming technologies.
In order to spur interest in future autonomous robots capable of self-navigation within a real-world environment, a reconfigurable robot obstacle course with small robots able to read small portable road signs was developed. Visitors were welcomed to jump right into the course and reconfigure the route using the signs, redirecting the robot to follow any path they desired. A large display demonstrated the robots computer vision and path planning algorithms in real-time to teach participants how robots “see” and make decisions when reacting to changes made on the course.
In addition to the live robot exhibit, a looping video demonstrated gesture control of the four-legged BigDog robot developed by Boston Dynamics. The BigDog video let onlookers see next-generation Human Robot Interaction concepts where Soldiers collaborate with dismounted robots team members.Getting students ready to participate in STEM fields post-graduation requires giving them hands-on experience working within interdisciplinary teams. The Robotics Club at UCF is a registered student organization granting students the opportunity to apply their education through creation of unmanned systems participating in competitions sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
The STTC and the ACTIVE Lab provide mentorship, facilities, and funding for these students developing autonomous ground and surface vehicles able to navigate autonomously through complex terrain and perform advanced mission objectives. These systems, built by combinations of Electrical, Mechanical, and Computer Engineering/Science students, have gone on to win multiple awards, including 2nd place in the 2013 RoboBoats competition. The experience students acquire collaborating on these projects is invaluable, and teaches them how to work within an interdisciplinary team to create and integrate a variety of technologies (e.g. computer vision, power systems) to accomplish complex challenges.