April 2, 2009
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
Computer science majors develop technology of the future
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - "Hercules," Slippery Rock University's student-operated robot, is a box-shaped automaton that uses lasers, sonar, bumper sensors and a camera to move about an Artificial Intelligence Lab. He plays follow the leader, picks up trash - and he comes in peace.
Purchased two years ago through the SRU Technology Fee program, computer science majors Daniel Bly of Chicora, John Corrado of Cranberry, Josh White of New Castle and Joseph Forsythe of Slippery Rock have made several advances with Hercules this semester.
Students created a computer interface for Hercules and programmed its wheels, sonar and laser sensors and camera. The program tells the robot how close it is to an object, so that it can navigate the lab and pick up items with greater efficiency.
Students hope to activate a GPS unit and have Hercules ready for an outdoor venture by fall semester.
"It's been one of the most exciting and fun things I've worked on here, but it is full of challenges," White said. "We're always looking for something new. There will never be a day when we say, 'This is done, and we don't want to play with it anymore.'"
Hercules, an autonomous programmable robot manufactured by Mobile Robots Inc. is used in the "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence," class taught by Sam Thangiah, SRU professor of computer science. The four students took the course but made the advances while working on their own time.
"It's incredible," Thangiah said. "They're all taking 15 to 18 credits, but they still spend a considerable amount of time after class continuing and building the project, because of their love for it."
The research is important, Thangiah said, because many experts believe robots will soon be used in a number of work settings, including manufacturing and deliveries. For instance, Thangiah foresees a day when robots will deliver mail and medical supplies in hospitals and detect roadside bombs for the military and police.
Monday, the "fab four" gathered to test Hercules' arm. They commanded the robot to drop its arm to the ground, pick up a piece of scrunched up paper and drop it in the trash.
"We've been learning how to program real-world applications," Corrado said. "The opportunity at Slippery Rock University has really taught me a lot about robotics and will look good on a resume."
Forsythe, who plans a career in computer programming, said the experience with Hercules has been invaluable.
"I am grateful for the opportunity given by Slippery Rock University; not every university offers something like this. The robot itself might not look science fiction or like NASA, but the logic behind it is the same. Robotics is definitely the technology of the future. The ability to work with robots this early in our education is pretty special. Ultimately, I'd like to do something like this professionally and work with robots everyday."
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their live.