2010 February - Career Fuel2010 February - Career Fuel

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February 2010
In This Issue:



Rutgers Robot Makes a Big Splash
Robots...Really?
Scoring Big at Bot Central
Your Robotics Future
Resource Corner

Rutgers Robot Makes a Big Splash

In early March, teams of scientists and students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick celebrated the historic trans-Atlantic journey of their very own explorer—a bright yellow robot named the Scarlet Knight. The 8-foot, 134-pound missile-shaped glider, also known as RU27, launched by the Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, became the first unmanned underwater robot to cross the Atlantic Ocean this winter. The glider was launched from Tuckerton in Ocean County on April 27, 2009 and traveled 4,594 miles and 221 days, landing in Balona, Spain on Dec. 7, 2009.

The robot Scarlet Knight collected data along the vast floor of the Atlantic Ocean and its findings will help scientists thoroughly map the ocean and its currents—critical data to understanding and predicting climate change and other aspects of the planet’s future. Beyond its merits in science history, Rutgers’ robot is also a hands-on way for students to learn about oceanography and to even flex their filmmaking skills. The glider team includes professors and students from Rutgers’ schools of Engineering and Environmental and Biological Sciences, as well as filmmakers at Rutgers Writers House, who filmed “Atlantic Crossing,” an 80-minute documentary that follows the glider as it maneuvers its way through currents, storms, ships, fishing nets and sea creatures. Stay tuned for more news of the Scarlet Knight’s underwater adventures.

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Robots...Really?

Really! Humanoid robotics is no longer the stuff of sci-fi fantasy and high school competitions. James J. Kuffner Jr., an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh—America's largest robotics research facility—believes the U.S. is less than two decades away from welcoming humanoid robots into their homes. They would resemble the Roomba—that little round vacuum that skims through your house sucking dust—only bigger, better and looking a lot more like you and me.

Robot Central, an online research and analysis service covering the robot economy, says the global robot marketplace is predicted to grow from $10 billion in 2007 to more than $50 billion in 2012. All kinds of great opportunities exist for careers in computer science and robotics. Robotics is the science and technology of robots, their design, manufacture and application. Robotics requires a working knowledge of electronics software and mechanics. All robots share the features of electronic sensors, and a movable structure under some form of autonomous electronics, computer and software control. Organizations like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are looking for hands-on problem solvers to work on future aerospace projects and research. Why wait? Lots of high school students participate in robotics competitions like the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science & Technology) LEGO Leagues’ LEGO-based Sumo Challenge, where two LEGO robots face off on a small game board. The last one to touch the outer line wins.

Maybe you want to take your love of robotics one mechanical step further. High School freshmen, sophomores and juniors in New Jersey are invited to apply for an intensive one-week or two-week summer Robotics Camp offered by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. This year’s session will be held July 11-23 on the TCNJ campus. Students will be introduced through a residential college academic experience to the field of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and will learn about microcontroller programming, sensing systems, digital electronics, computer vision, virtual simulations and more. Check out the Resource Corner below for a link to more details. The deadline for camp applications is May 15, 2010.

Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Advice 101 column’s Show All feature and selecting “Robots…Really?”

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Scoring Big at Bot Central

More than 2,000 New Jersey students from across the state came together on March 6 and 7 for the 14th annual New Jersey FIRST Robotics Competition at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton.

A total of 61 teams of high school students, toting robots they designed and built, faced off in a game called “Breakaway.” The “Breakaway” theme involved two alliances of three teams each competing on a field with bumps, attempting to earn points by collecting soccer balls in their goals. Even though the Pascack Valley Regional High School robot suddenly stopped moving in the middle of competition, the team—a.k.a. the Pascack Pi-oneers of Hillsdale and Montvale—tinkered with his mechanics and sent their robot again charging toward the soccer goal. Ultimately, the Pascack team was part of a three-school alliance that won the FIRST Robotics Competition’s regional games. They now head to the national championships next month—April 2010—in Atlanta. The Say Watt? team of high school students, most of whom are from the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies, and their robot, “Bounty Hunter,” are also heading to Atlanta in April. For more details on all the participants and winners, check out the New Jersey FIRST blog at http://blogs.mycentraljersey.com/njfirst/.

Students competing in FIRST are more than gear-crazy teens; they also see beyond the bolts and software. “It gives a lot of problem-solving and critical-thinking skills that will help me in college,” Erica Hopkins told a reporter from The Bergen Record during the robotics event. Erica, a Mahwah High School senior, plans to major in physics, math or a related field in college. In addition to working with science and technology, FIRST students also get the chance to show their stuff to college scouts attending competitions. Students on robotics teams are eligible for $7 million in college scholarships this year, ranging from $500 to full tuition for four years.

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Your Robotics Future

The Robotics Alliance Project at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has all kinds of great info to help guide you down your robotics career path. Here are a few questions and answers from the site’s ongoing webcast (http://www.robotics.nasa.gov/students/faq.php#employmentstudy) that might help you as you contemplate your own robotic future:

Q: What is the best part of robotics?
A: The best part of robotics is getting something to work using the efforts of many different people and skills. In robotics, there's a lot of teamwork. No one person does all the work to make a robot operate. It's always interesting to me to see all the different skills required to make our robots work. NASA Robotics Engineer Linda Kobayashi

Q: What is the hardest part of building robots?
A: The hardest part of building robots is finding out something didn't work the way you expected. When that happens, we usually have to go back to the drawing board and come up with some other creative way to do what we want. NASA Robotics Engineer Linda Kobayashi

Q: Can you describe a day at work? I assume it is not "routine" and repetitive, but can you give me an idea of what might be typical?
A: My workdays are certainly not "routine". While there are certain mundane things we all need to do each day, I think there's a different challenge in robotics to tackle everyday. Being in robotics, it seems there's no shortage of challenges and work to be done. Robotics certainly is an exciting field. One day I could be working on fixing something as simple as a broken connection, whereas on another day I could be in front of my computer designing a circuit. As long as you're always willing to learn and willing to take the challenge each day, I think you will find every day can be exciting and it will never be "routine". NASA Robotics Engineer Linda Kobayashi

Q: I am a high school student interested in science, math and technology. Do you know how I might find out what opportunities NASA has for robotics engineers?
A: Opportunities for robotics engineers at NASA continue to grow as robotic space exploration becomes a priority. As you start to look at colleges, consider a college that has a program in robotics. Such programs can be found by looking at http://ranier.hq.nasa.gov/Telerobotics_page/InternetRobots2.html#USUniversity. You also might want to look into NASA's student programs at http://www.nasajobs.nasa.gov/jobs/student_opportunities/student_opportunities.htm. When you're ready to look for a job, try the NASA-wide jobs website at http://www.nasajobs.nasa.gov/.

Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Advice 101 column’s Show All feature and selecting “Your Robotics Future.”

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Resource Corner

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