Student Robotics Ideas Come to Life During Summer Research Program – USC Viterbi

This summer, visiting students from USC Viterbi’s REU Robotics and Autonomous Systems program toured NASA’s JPL with assistant professor of computer science Stefanos Nikolaidis (center).

When Aditi Haiman, a computer science student at Columbia University, took a music theory class last year, something struck her.

“Sitting at the piano, it’s hard to find something that’s original and not influenced by music you’ve heard before,” Haiman said. “As far as I know, there is no way to compose music by simply interacting with your environment.”

It also underlined his feeling that composing music is often inaccessible and intimidating for beginners or people with physical limitations.

“As far as I know, there is no way to compose music by simply interacting with your environment.” Aditi Haiman

So this summer at USC, when Haiman participated in the USC Viterbi Robotics and Autonomous Systems Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, she developed Music Cube, a cube-shaped device that plays different notes when turned. , depending on its orientation in 3D space.

The cube “knows” which side is facing up thanks to a mechanism called a tilt switch – a small loose ball of metal rolling inside – which touches the sides of the cube as it moves. Once the ball makes contact with a side, the circuits light up signaling that the cube is oriented in a way that corresponds to a note.

In future iterations, Haiman, who has been playing classical piano for over a decade, plans to replace the tilt switch with a gyroscope for better accuracy, an accelerometer, and WiFi capabilities so the cube can connect to a composition software on a computer.

The device is simple to build and use, making music composition accessible to people who can’t read or write sheet music or people who struggle with fine motor skills.

“It’s also a great way to get young kids involved in music,” Haiman said.

Manage your own projects

Haiman was one of 8 students who participated in the summer program, aimed at underrepresented groups in engineering, where undergraduates learn and experience robotics using state-of-the-art equipment.

Aditi holds the prototype of the Music Cube next to the schematics of the project she submitted to the program.

The USC REU site, led by assistant professor of computer science Stefanos Nikolaidis, brings undergraduate students to Los Angeles to conduct their own projects and research cutting-edge technologies in a wide range of robotics applications, from machine learning and from scientific discovery to health care. and help at-risk populations.

“The goal of the program is to increase students’ enthusiasm for robotics and computer science,” Nikolaidis said. “We want to strengthen their interest in studying these areas in graduate school.”

Using the labs, training, and faculty mentoring provided by the program, students created prototypes exploring everything from robotic social workers to vehicles capable of automatically navigating around obstacles. They also attended world-renowned research centers and laboratories, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A hand

Paolo Limcaoco, a mechanical engineering junior from Boston University, joined a project with other students called CAM Smart Robotic Assistant. Their prototype shows how a simple mechanical arm and camera can tidy up workspaces or distribute tools, so humans can take on more complex tasks.

“Some tasks are better situated for humans and others for robots – one person could do the cleaning, but their time could be better spent doing something else,” Limcaoco said. “If you can create robots that can do some of the work that humans would usually do, that makes workspaces more efficient.”

The CAM intelligent robotic assistant was designed to safely hand tools and objects to humans using a gripper that can change shape depending on what it is holding.

Limcaoco’s contribution was the robot’s gripping “hand”, called the Parallel Panular Gripper (PPG), which can grab a variety of objects without breaking or dropping them.

The gripper consists of malleable fingers filled with a grainy material that uses an internal vacuum to harden and form a perfect mold of the object being held. Compared to the rudimentary grip you’ll find on many other robots, which simply applies pressure, Limcaoco’s design is more secure and less likely to break tools.

The resources offered by the program were critical to the project, according to Limcaoco, particularly the workspace at USC’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing. The equipment was dedicated to student use and readily available, and his program cohorts were a welcome source of support throughout his stay.

“If I needed material or help in general, there were other graduate researchers I could contact,” Limcaoco said. “On top of that, I had access to these industrial-grade 3D printers in the same room as my workspace. I didn’t have to wait the usual few days for my parts to be printed.”

Indeed, preparing students for a future in robotics research is one of the main goals of the program, according to Nikolaidis.

“Through the REU program, we try to give students, especially underrepresented groups, the feeling that they can succeed in research,” Nikolaidis said. “We want to show that this is not a career for ‘somebody else’.”

Posted on October 7, 2022

Last updated on October 7, 2022