Students test their robots' mettle at Shepherd University's ShepRobo Fest

March 31, 2013|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Shepherd University junior Randy McCright tests "Tiny" the robot before sending it into battle Sunday in the Mech-Warfare Arena during the third ShepRobo Fest at Shepherd University.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — When the robot R2-D2 showed up in the Star Wars movies, a lot of people probably thought it would be well in the future before something like that became reality.

Well, that day is here.

A robotics festival at Shepherd University this weekend featured robots that can find fire in rooms and a solar-powered balloon contraption that can be used to take photographs on a battlefield and pick up military intelligence.

Robots are in use today, like those that look for explosives, said Seung-yun Kim, an assistant professor of computer information and science at Shepherd University who organized the third annual ShepRobo Fest at the Butcher Center.

Kim said he can see robots being used in homes to do simple tasks like retrieving remote controls.

“It’s going to happen in the near future,” Kim said.

Michael Skaggs, vice president of SURoC, a Shepherd University robotics club, said he thinks robotics soon will be used in artificial limbs for people.

Today’s artificial limbs depend on the strength of an individual, but Skaggs said he thinks there will be robotic artificial limbs that will exceed normal human strength.

“It’s weird to think about,” said Skaggs, a senior studying computer engineering.

Skaggs said he saw a recent demonstration where a person donned a robotic-controlled exoskeleton that allowed the person to pick up with ease objects weighing as much as 200 pounds.

ShepRobo Fest gives people a chance to compete in robotics from elementary school through college, although the competition Saturday and Sunday involved only college students, Kim said. Shepherd University students joined with students from Stony Brook University in New York to compete.

Kim said 150 to 200 spectators and competitors were at the festival, the biggest crowd yet for the event.

There were four competitions in the event — firefighting, sumo fighting, Lego robot and Mech Warfare.

In the firefighting competition, robots had to enter an area sectioned into four different rooms to find a burning candle and extinguish it.

Kenneth Blosser, a Shepherd University sophomore studying computer engineering, said the firefighting robot he worked on was built of Legos. The contraption’s motor came with a Lego kit, and the team used a laptop computer to write the robot’s “code,” Blosser said. The code is everything that the robot knew, the Parkersburg, W.Va., native said.

Blosser’s robot used a paper towel to reach over and snuff out the candle’s flame, and the robot successfully put out the flame one time in two tries.

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