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K-State Today

November 5, 2012

Mr. Roboto: Professor's hobby turns into academic offerings

Submitted by Communications & Marketing

A professor's volunteer work has turned into an academic offering for Kansas State University Salina students interested in robotics.

"I became familiar with robotics after being asked to mentor the Salina Central High School robotics team on software and programming," said Tim Bower, associate professor of computer systems technology. "In the last couple of years, K-State Salina started looking at the need for robotics classes, especially as it can provide some great interdisciplinary problem-solving in our engineering technology department."

Currently Bower is working with Tanner Stephenson, junior in computer systems technology, Great Bend, to learn the TurtleBot's base platform as part of a one-hour independent study class.

"Our focus right now is just becoming familiar with the robot and how to program it so, for now, it is a software-only project," Bower said. "But this will grow and involve electronics and mechanical students, also. Robotics has a close synergy with our unmanned aircraft systems initiatives as well."

Stephenson is spending the semester writing programming for the TurtleBot.

"It is a new experience for me to work with robotics," Stephenson said. "There are many complex and subtle issues that we are working on resolving, especially related to programing autonomous behavior of the robot. I'm enjoying the challenges and am learning a lot, though."

Bower and Stephenson are experimenting with the base platform for now, with plans to eventually add an arm that would allow it to cooperate or compete with other robots.

"The base platform is pretty basic, but it does have some interesting features," Bower said. "It uses a Microsoft Kinect, the same equipment that can be used with an Xbox 360, as visual and sonar sensors. And the programming environment that it uses, ROS, has an open source license, so there are no limitations on what we can do with it."

Bower selected the TurtleBot platform after working with Lee Gatton, K-State Salina alum and owner of Overland Park-based GRD Robotics.

"Lee has been very helpful and willing to consult with us to make sure that as our robotics offerings expand our students are developing the skills they will need in the workforce. Robotics is increasingly being used in industry and presents some interesting technical challenges not seen in other areas of software development, such as programing centered around input and output," Bower said.

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