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UMD Robotics Day attracts large turnout

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Dana Vogtmann, a University of Maryland graduate student, examines prototypes of "crab-bots," microrobots that imitate the sideways motion of crabs, Sept. 10 during the university's first Robotics Day.

Dana Vogtmann, a University of Maryland graduate student, examines prototypes of "crab-bots," microrobots that imitate the sideways motion of crabs, Sept. 10 during the university's first Robotics Day.

Published on: Wednesday, September 15, 2010

By Katelin Wangberg

From robots designed to mimic the movements of animals to robots made for space exploration to micro robotics that will be able to diagnose malignant cells in the human body before there are physical systems, Robotics Day at the University of Maryland featured something for everyone.

The free event held Sept. 10 introduced the new Maryland Robotics Center and demonstrated current robotics research at the University of Maryland.

The new Maryland Robotics Center consists of 18 research labs currently working on various aspects of robotics research across the University of Maryland campus. This interdisciplinary center was created to unite the robotics researchers in an effort to increase collaboration on projects. Prior to the Robotics Center, there were many robotics researchers across the campus, but there was no central location for them to work together.

Within the Maryland Robotics Center there are 25 faculty members from seven different academic departments including aerospace engineering, biology, bioengineering, civil and environmental engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering.

The events for Robotics Day consisted of tours and demonstrations by the students, faculty, and of course, robots from the new Robotics Center. This showcase of robotics research drew a variety of people to the campus.

More than 400 people registered for the event, but walk-in visitors continued to arrive throughout the day. According to Rebecca Copeland, director of public relations of systems research at the University of Maryland, the turnout far exceeded expectations.

“It’s very exciting. It’s wonderful to see so many people show up,” Copeland said. “We didn’t realize there’d be that wide an interest. We are over capacity, and it’s a good thing!”

Visitors roamed from lab to lab, visiting with professors and students as they demonstrated their particular robot’s abilities.

“I’m very impressed. It’s exciting to see the direction they’re going in,” said Robotics Day visitor Gary Mauler, founder of Maryland’s Robot Fest, as he watched a robot maneuver between orange cones. “They’ve hit the nail on the head with this.”

The robot Mauler observed was made by John Karvounis, a doctoral student in electrical engineering, out of products anyone could find on store shelves. The robot is one of eight designed to work together as a “robot swarm.”

“They can form their own swarm and map a building in 3-D, make blue prints and maybe be used for search and rescue,” Karvounis said.

The long-term goals of Robotics Day are to ensure the school is known for its strong robotics program, to create opportunities for graduate student employment and to spark an interest in robotics for students who could be future University of Maryland students.

The people who came to the event ranged from elementary school classes to robotics companies scouting talent, making the school’s long-term goals seem within reach.

Though Robotics Day was only one day, graduate students at the University of Maryland said they hope the creation of the Robotics Center will inspire collaboration between the departments and lead to breakthroughs in robotic technology, something that will last much longer than one day.

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