The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS) sponsored its second Teen Robotics Program at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA). The program — designed to give high school students insight into the exciting challenges and opportunities in the field of robotics — took place on 17 May 2012 in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA (the ‘Twin Cities’). IEEE RAS contacted local public schools, the FIRST Robotics Organization, the Explorer Scouts, and the IEEE Twin Cities Section to recruit motivated high school juniors and seniors to attend. Even though mid-May is a busy time for teenagers with proms, exams, and graduation, IEEE RAS managed to recruit a dozen teenagers and one teacher to participate in the six-hour program.
The teenagers learned much about the exciting field of robotics during their visit. After Professor Wesley Snyder of North Carolina State University gave an overview on robotics, the students watched a TED Talk video featuring Professor Vijay Kumar of the University of Pennsylvania and his flying robots. About five minutes into the video — much to the students’ surprise–, Professor Kumar strolled into the room and finished the talk in person. Next, ICRA General Chair Nikos Papanikolopoulos of the University of Minnesota spoke to the students about the robotics programs underway in their home state of Minnesota.
Afterwards it was time for the students to see some real robots in action. The students met Dr. Steve Cousins, CEO of ICRA Robot Challenge sponsor Willow Garage, a company that develops hardware and open source software for personal robotic applications. The company provided several of its sophisticated, commercially available PR2 robots (only U.S.$400,000 each!) for the ICRA Robot Challenge that took place the day before. Dr. Cousins presented a demonstration called “Yesterday’s Sushi,” which featured robots as they cleared and reset a full-sized table and served sushi dishes in a mock sushi restaurant. The demonstration was a reenactment of the Mobile Manipulation Challenge, also known as “The Sushi Boat Challenge,” one of six challenges that had taken place during the challenge competition. The students spoke with one of the challenge teams — a group of graduate students from the University of Michigan — and saw the team’s robots before visiting the main exhibition. They also met with representatives from many of the 30 companies and organizations that attended, including DARPA, NASA, iRobot, ABB, KUKA, and Barrett Technologies. The students not only witnessed robots in action, but also got to operate them.
The ICRA Twin Cities Teen Robotics Event was originally scheduled to end at noon, but several of the students accepted an invitation to attend the ICRA plenary talk on the Development Outline of the Humanoid Robot: HUBO II by Professor Jun Ho Oh of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Korea. The students were impressed with the cool robots as well as the enthusiasm of the academic and industry professionals they met, all of whom were more than willing to answer their questions.
(Videos: View the full list of TechTalks from ICRA 2012.)
The ICRA Twin Cities Teen Robotics Event was the second youth event sponsored by IEEE RAS. The first was held in San Francisco, California, USA in September 2011 at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.