Emma DARwin: More than a Robot
Meet Emma, the Computer Science Department’s newest addition.
She’s only a couple of feet tall and ready for her programming. She is an open platform DARwin, Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence, meaning that she can be programmed to perform a multitude of tasks. And as she learns, the students are growing with her.
“It’s my baby,” said Brandon Shrewsbury, a senior and a teaching assistant. “It’s my brand new toy. It’s actually everyone’s toy in the department.”
Truth is, it’s not a toy. It’s a walking, talking computer. The robot serves to support and nurture undergraduate research, said Dr. Adel Abunawass, chair of the department.
“This also creates an opportunity to directly support classroom instruction. Our undergraduate research informs our teaching, and our teaching enriches our research,” Abunawass said.
When the robot arrived, Shrewsbury along with classmates Kenitra Morrow and Ameen Kazerouni, were excited to see her, Abunawass said. They named her Emma, for Charles Darwin’s wife.
Under Abunawass’ direction, Shrewsbury and Kazerouni are working on a project to give Emma a sense of itself – they want it to know that it is standing, walking, about to fall. And if it falls, they want it to know how to get up.
“Right now, that’s really, really, really hard,” Shrewsbury said.
UWG is one of a handful of schools that have purchased the robot. The PC-based robot was developed by a partnership of universities at the Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech and built by Robotis Inc.
Before you start arming yourself for the coming Cylon War, there are real-world applications for it.
It can be used:
• To identify and disarm explosive ordinance devices.
Most of our robots can do one job very well, Shrewsbury said. But to program a robot to do more sophisticated jobs requires a lot of work.
Once that barrier is crossed, sophisticated robots can learn not only how to assemble widgets, but to do quality assurance checks. In theory, the robot can be taught construction; then programmed with building specifications and codes.
“Having this open platform, we can program DARwin to do a multitude of tasks and experiment with what works and what doesn’t work,” Shrewsbury said. “The fact that we have this means we can start paving the way for robots that actually act like this and actually work like this.”
For now, the students are working on elementary functions.
“I hope that we can come up with something that will revolutionize how DARwin can move,” Shrewsbury said.
And while it is being programmed to do the hard stuff, Emma will have a part time job – speaking at orientations, preview days and when visiting high schools.
“I think she is going to be a good ambassador for us,” Abunawass said.
To see Emma DARwin go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbWJzLn0Amw.
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