Thursday, December 15, 2011

As the semester drew to a close, many Siena students gave presentations on the results of their research and class projects. Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most interactive, research was on display on the third floor of Roger Bacon Hall during the College’s first RoboShow.

“Welcome to the first robot tour,” said a small, MiniMax robot in a, tinny, electronic voice. It then guided a group of students, faculty, staff and administrators down the hallway pointing out classrooms, labs, lounges and faculty offices. Computer science students William Halloran ’12, Tyler Mann ’13, Alyssa Nghiem ’13 and Karl Appel ’14 built and programmed the tiny tour guide during Siena’s inaugural robotics class.

“The first part of the semester was really just learning about robots,” said Appel. After learning the basics from Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sharon Small, Ph.D., Appel and his classmates built a fleet of five MiniMax robots. The robots are the first of their kind. They all use computer software and Xbox Kinect technology to function.

“It is rewarding to see the way the students have advanced throughout the semester,” Small said. “They’ve performed phenomenally.”

Small said that the students were engaged in the project from the start. Many spent long hours trying to perfect their robots. Small hoped the project would provide hands-on experience for computer science students while encouraging them to consider careers in the growing field of robotics or to pursue opportunities in graduate school.

“It is exciting to see their work come together and come to life,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Linda Richardson, Ph.D. “This is a wonderful example of high-impact learning that encourages students to take a hands-on approach to computer programming.”

Along with providing tours, students designed robots that could perform other tasks. Jeff Ellsworth ’13, Chris Eddy, Dan Egan ’15 and Kyle Edwards ’14 created a robot that could replicate stocking grocery shelves. Denis Kalic ’14, Anthony Parente ’12, Christopher Black ’12 and Stepahine Vale ’13 built “Blake,” a robot that could play tic-tac-toe against a human and Matthew Ferritto ’12, Chris Small ’13, Carl Tompkins ’14 and Frank Schroeder ’14 constructed a robot that could do battle with a human opponent during the card game “War.”

“You’re very enthusiastic about what you accomplished,” Schroeder said about how he felt seeing his team's robot on display. “I’m very proud. We have a hard working team.”

The MiniMax robots that stocked shelves and played games were programmed to read Augmented Reality Markers that could distinguish the appropriate objects or values. For example, during “War,” the robot read the AR markers to distinguish the value of the cards in front of it and calculate the results of each hand.

The final team of students, Mike Tanski ’12, Michael Paff ’12, Patrick Decker ’13 and Chris Rivadeneira ’13 created a robot that served as an elevator assistant.

“It really tested our programming abilities,” Rivadeneira said. The team programmed the robot to respond to voice commands to find out a person’s desired floor. It then pressed the appropriate button using a mechanical arm and let the person know it received the information and was processing the request. “No Problem. On our way,” the robot said.

Based on the success of the robots they built, the students are on their way to bright futures in computer programming.