By GREGORY ZELLER //
Robots invaded the Composite Prototyping Center in Plainview on Aug. 3, but stay calm – humans remained in control.
Some very young humans, in fact, representing school districts from across Long Island in a pilot Robotics Camp presented by the Stony Brook University-based Manufacturing & Technology Resource Consortium, the Island’s regional Manufacturing Extension Partnership center.
The MEP is a public-private partnership with centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, each dedicated to serving regional small and medium-sized manufacturers. In 2017, MEP Centers interacted with more than 26,000 manufacturers, according to the program, helping them generate some $12.6 billion in sales and $1.7 billion in cost savings.
In addition to piling onto those impressive statistics, the MTRC Robotics Camp – hosted by the CPC and focused heavily on STEM education (for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) – took campers on a truly deep dive into robotics, offering experiential learning and hands-on innovation opportunities covering practical electronics, the use of sensors and actuators and much more.
Friday’s finale was the closing act of the two-week camp, giving participants – 24 students representing numerous Nassau and Suffolk public school systems – a stage on which to show off their new engineering design, practical electronics and microcontroller knowledge, while beefing up their collaborative and problem-solving skills.
Their mission: to design, construct and program Bluetooth-controlled automatons, then run them through mazes and other challenges in front of an audience of parents and peers.
Cynthia Colón, program manager for MTRC, said the participants – who also received their own robotics kits to take home when the camp concluded – were eager to share their new knowhow, including working knowledge of such advanced concepts as electronic circuit design, differential drives, planar linkage mechanisms and more.
“The students were engaged throughout the two weeks and excited to demonstrate what they designed and developed,” Colón said Monday.
The camp also plugged into advanced software apps such as Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform, and MotionGen, a “kinematic design” app developed at Stony Brook University and marketed by Mechanismic Inc., a Dix Hills-based startup founded by Anurag Purwar.
Purwar, an associate professor in SBU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the university’s Computer-Aided Design and Innovation Lab, developed the Robotics Camp curriculum, according to the MTRC.
By incorporating MotionGen and other next-level tools, the STEM-focused camp gave the entire region a leg up on in-demand professional skills that are only gaining importance, according to MTRC Executive Director Imin Kao, who dubbed the two-week program “a workforce-development project for the MEP program.”
“In as early as eight to 10 years, some of these students will be entering the workforce,” noted Kao, also a professor in SBU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and executive director of SUNY Korea, an educational partnership between the state university system and the government of South Korea. “This program leverages the enthusiasm and cultivates the interest the students have, and aims to keep them on that path to the development of a future workforce ready for multiple industries.”
After two weeks of designing, programming and interfacing robots that can roll, walk and perform more complex tasks, Colón said organizers are already looking ahead to future installments.
“We feel this pilot program was a success,” the MTRC program manager added. “Our goal is to run this annually and be sure that it is accessible to students in Nassau and Suffolk counties.”