Elementary school field trip probes into robotics, engineering applications

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Fifth graders flocked from Nova Blanche Forman Elementary School to the University of Miami campus to learn about robotics and engineering on Thursday.

Ubbo Visser, an associate professor of computer science at UM, presented his two-foot companion, an autonomous, humanoid robot that played soccer in front of the students. He gave a general overview of all the complex systems that make the robot work. The kids were engaged throughout the presentation and eagerly asked questions.

“I had the feeling they really enjoyed it,” said Visser, who was relieved that the demonstration was completed without major issues. “Real-time robotics is always tricky; something can always go wrong. In this case, it worked quite well … I was happy that the robot could see the ball, which is not trivial at all.”

Fifth graders from Broward County participate in a field trip to UM to learn about robotics and engineering Thursday. Kawan Amelung // Staff Photographer

Fifth graders from Broward County participate in a field trip to UM to learn about robotics and engineering Thursday. Kawan Amelung // Staff Photographer

Visser’s team of animatronic soccer players flew to Brazil last year to compete in the RoboCup Open, a huge World Cup-styled robot soccer tournament in which 358 teams from 45 different countries competed for robot glory. RoboCanes Miami took an impressive second-place finish.

The RoboCanes team also challenged the two world-record-holding fastest robots to a race and won. UM’s robot managed to outpace the robots from the Technical University of Dortmund and the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences in impressive fashion.

Visser said that their success wasn’t easy to achieve.

“The number of daily challenges we have is really large, and I’m enjoying having that challenge. There’s nothing else more satisfying than seeing something on a real, physical, embodied system working in a robust manner … It can be very stressful, but very, very rewarding as well.”

The fifth graders from Broward County also watched a presentation by UM’s Society of Women Engineers. The organization’s president, senior Amanda Klaristenfeld, enjoyed teaching the young students.

“It’s great to be able to put engineering into a perspective where students that young can understand it. So we related each discipline of engineering to how chocolate is made.”

Before going home after their field trip, the students were given a tour of UM’s campus.

Editor’s Note: The field trip and research are funded by the National Science Foundation, award #1523010 to the University of Miami, Ji Shen (PI), Moataz Eltoukhy (co-PI), and Lauren Barth-Cohen (co-PI).

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