The Daily Evergreen

Going bonkers for bots

BY CATHERINE KRUSE | Evergreen club reporter

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From Mars rovers to battling bots, the students of Robotics Club train to become masters of machinery.

WSU’s Robotics Club started last year in August. The club serves as a place for students to learn how to build and program robots either to perform tasks or simply for the fun of it.

“The two main components are teaching students who don’t know what they’re doing and then finding a project they find exciting,” said adviser and robotics professor Matthew Taylor.

Some of the projects the Robotics Club has done include building a robotic arm and NASA’s Mars Rover competitions, which looks for students to build another generation of rovers. Now that the club and some of its members have a year of experience, they can look to competitions such as Battle Bots.

Club Vice President Matthew Foreman, a sophomore electrical engineering major, described Robotics Club as a place where students can come in and practice the theories they learn in the classroom.

“You learn these concepts in classes and don’t do anything with them,” Foreman said. “We provide the tools and projects to apply these things.”

He said the club has been focused on making it a social environment, looking at competitions and preparing students for things they can do with robotics after graduation.

Robotics Club welcomes new members and nobody needs to be an engineer or science major to join. Club President Kayl Coulston, a sophomore studying computer science, had no experience with robotics whatsoever before joining Robotics Club.

“Every day I came to Robotics Club (to) learn something new and develop my skills,” Coulston said.

Taylor said the meetings are made up of two components: structural tutorials and group projects. The first half-hour to an hour is spent teaching the students about some technology and then the rest of the time is for the students to get into groups and work on various projects.

A small company that developed from the club, Simple Intelligence, is working on an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) that would chase birds for wineries and other agriculture purposes. At the moment, the project is in the research and development stage of building prototypes and raising more funding.

“(The company) is all undergrads and the idea started in our lab, but they formed their own limited liability corporation,” Taylor said. “It’s nice to get them excited and give them a startup when they graduate.”

However, Taylor said one of the stumbling blocks is the regulations set by the Federal Aviation Admission about flying UAVs commercially. Until the regulations are loosened, the use of these flying bird chasing machines for commercial use would require expensive permits.

The complication level of actually building the robot is high. Taylor said the club allows members to delve in as deep as they want. One of the important things is making sure the club is still fun for people coming in with no knowledge whatsoever about robotics.

“It’s nice because we have access to enough resources that we can do projects that are simple and all the way up to really hard,” Foreman said. “(You can) jump in or take it easy. It seems more daunting than it really is.”

Taylor said one of the difficult parts is that it costs a lot to have the necessary materials for the club. The club was lucky enough to receive a grant from WSU alumnus Doug Alred to start up, Taylor said.

The money for the club goes toward materials such as buying robots and fixing them if they break or buying the parts to build the bot from scratch. Finding a consistent stream of revenue can be difficult, but the club does things like selling T-shirts to help with fundraising, Taylor said.

“In engineering, it’s not just about learning,” Taylor said. “It’s about building something and this gives (students) the chance to take what they learn in class and use it.”

Robotics Club meets at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday in Dana Hall Room 3.

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Going bonkers for bots