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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Dueling robots have a place in new major?

UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) has established a new robotics engineering major under its department of computer engineering. ?Students were able to start enrolling in the major less than a month ago, and at least 11 incoming first-years have declared this major, in addition to the 44 current students that have also declared robotics. ?”I would certainly love to see it help student recruitment rate, and get more students excited about coming to UCSC – they’ll see that we have a broader range of engineering programs,” said Richard Hughey, professor of computer engineering and biomolecular engineering at UCSC. ?

UCSC initially created a robotics concentration in 2007 under the computer engineering major, but desired course load of the concentration exceeded its parent major, creating the need for the separate major.? Hughey, who was essential in the development of this new major, said that the idea for a robotics major strengthened after seeing the growth in the number of computer engineering and electrical engineering students who were forming teams for robot-related projects.? The popular course, “Introduction to Mechatronics,” has been incorporated into the robotics curriculum, a class that Hughey said is “a really intensive design course.”? The course covers robotic movements, control and manipulation. Students spend the quarter designing and testing their robots to meet a challenge on a playing field at the end of the term.? “There’s always some sort of a problem – like getting an empty soda can off of another robot’s head – so sort of like a duel using ping pong balls,” Hughey said.? Other courses for the robotics curriculum include “Intro to Robot Automation” and “Sensing and Sensors.”? Enrique Lavernia, dean of the College of Engineering at UC Davis, does not feel that an official robotics engineering major is necessary at this time.

“We really need to help the students learn how to make decisions, to analyze problems, to be innovative and creative. What we ultimately need to do is to create a ‘renaissance engineer,'” Lavernia said. Lavernia noted that robotics is used extensively by UC Davis professors inside and outside of the classroom. One UC Davis professor exploring robotics is Harry Cheng, professor from the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who recently had his robot creation patented. Cheng, who also advises the Robotics Club, acknowledges that there is a demand for robotics-related education.

However, he echoes similar sentiments as Lavernia.

“Robotics is an interdisciplinary major. It requires mechanical, electrical and computer engineering science. From the campus point of view, we should think about the collaboration – how to train students with an interdisciplinary background,” Cheng said.

“I would argue that robotics needs to continue to increase to play a role in our degree, so that we can create this ‘renaissance engineer’ that I described. And if the faculty decide we want to do this because we have reasons for this robotics major – absolutely, I would support them,” Lavernia said.? But Kevin Taylor, public relations officer for the Robotics Club, thinks that a robotics major on campus would be beneficial.

“I think it would definitely be attractive to a lot of engineers. What the club has been able to do is put people on teams, to do hands-on activity on engineering and to apply their skills right away. I think a robotics major will allow people to do that in their classes as well,” said Taylor.? The Robotics Club, which re-started in January after being inactive since 2006, recently participated in the world’s largest robot competition, the RoboGames. They built a three kg autonomous robot to battle in a traditional sumo-wrestling event. The club is currently preparing to participate in the IEEE Robotics Contingency Competition in September.

?EVA TAN can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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