Robotics teams compete at statewide open house

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Calvin Griffin, 15; Afsheen Sajjadi, 16; Tyler Smith, 17; Andre Clay, 15; and Cole Carter, 15, from left, of Lafayette Parish's Team 3616 high school robotics team prep their robot for a parade during National Robotics Week Open House at LSU's Patrick Taylor Hall in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Calvin Griffin, 15; Afsheen Sajjadi, 16; Tyler Smith, 17; Andre Clay, 15; and Cole Carter, 15, from left, of Lafayette Parish's Team 3616 high school robotics team prep their robot for a parade during National Robotics Week Open House at LSU's Patrick Taylor Hall in Baton Rouge on Saturday.

There were flying robots, swimming robots, robots that shot flying discs, robots that did pull-ups and robots that picked up and moved small objects at the National Robotics Week Open House.

Fifteen teams of robotics students, both high school and college, participated in the statewide event Saturday organized by Red Stick Robotics and the LSU School of Engineering and held under the live oaks behind Patrick F. Taylor Hall on the LSU campus.

A robot parade, attended by about 100 participants and their friends and family, got underway at noon. Next came a demonstration of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s SWAT and bomb squad robot.

“Robotics is for everyone, not just the gifted and talented students,” said Jason Devillier, executive director of Red Stick Robotics. “Fifteen years ago, we were teaching students how to use a (computer) mouse. Today, we’re teaching students how to make a mouse and they are actually creating new technology.”

Robots come in small, medium and large sizes, Devillier said, and robots of all sizes were on display during the open house, from fist-sized flying machines to wheelbarrow-sized, four-wheel drive robots equipped with arms and clamps.

The beauty of robotics is the combination of software and hardware, Devillier said, and LSU professors from both areas were on hand to advise the students.

“Robotics is mechanics, it is physics, it is electronics — it brings together many programs,” said Sukhamay Kundu, associate professor in the department of computer sciences.

“Our department teaches control systems and that is what controls the robots,” said Marcio de Queiroz, associate professor of mechanical engineering. “We build the robots themselves.”

Episcopal High students were operating a large robot that spewed flying discs across the lawn so people could catch them. It also rolled on small wheels and made a lot of noise.

“We had six weeks to plan it, design it and build it,” said Rachel Donovan, 17, a senior at Episcopal High who plans to attend Colorado School of Mines next fall and study petroleum engineering.

Ian Landry, 16, of Catholic High of Pointe Coupee, had a four-motor, four-wheel-drive, shoebox-sized robot with an extendable arm, like a fire truck ladder, with a mechanical clamp on the end of it. Using an electronic game joystick control, Landry picked up a beanbag from the ground, turned the rig around, extended the boom and placed the beanbag on a nearby tabletop.

“It’s really, really challenging to get all the motors to operate at the same rate to go in a straight line,” Landry said. “It was weeks of work. If I was getting paid for my work, it would be a half-million,” he added with a grin.

Charles Malveaux, 31, a biological engineering major finishing up a master’s degree program, was demonstrating his tri-copter that could fly in any direction while under control of a joystick. It swooped high above the trees down to a foot above the parking lot, its whirring rotors stirring up some oak leaves.

“It’s an autonomous aerial drone,” he said. “It can carry cameras, it can do surveillance. It has a lot of features. I’m definitely looking at government work.”

This summer, students entering the fifth through 12th grades can attend the second Robotics Summer Camp, and later this fall, Red Stick Robotics is teaming up with LSU for a High School Robotics Course where as many as 500 students can earn up to three hours of college credits. For information, visit http://www.redstickrobot
ics.org.