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Students showcase robots

| Monday, April 13, 2015

The Compton Family Ice Arena was abuzz Sunday afternoon as more than 100 students and professors showcased their robots for the fourth annual National Robotics Week event.

“This event is really great because it allows the community to come in and see the work and research being done at Notre Dame, so even though it looks like just a lot of robots, there are actually a number of areas that we focus on,” graduate student Cory Hayes said.

Hayes worked on a robot which can interact with people using gestures, utilizing Microsoft’s Kinect program.

“We’re really focused on the communications aspect of robots, and making communications between robots and humans a little more natural,” Hayes said.

According to Hayes’s research, making communication smoother can lead to safer practices in healthcare, specifically when robotics are used in surgery.

“There are a bunch of different subsets for robots, and we really like letting the community see the research we’ve been doing,” Hayes said.

In another booth at Compton was a programmable ‘puppy,’ which was able to bark, come, sit and dance.

“Our robot is named RoboPup, and it can do a variety of commands. Depending on where the kids are standing in relation to the robot, that’s how it knows what to do,” senior Nicole Mariani said.

During Mariani’s demonstration RoboPup spun around the ‘pen’ until it detects a person. Upon detection, RoboPup mimics the action according to the programmed commands when facing the direction of the person in a the designated part of the pen.

For example, if you wanted the dog to dance, you would stand in the ‘dance’ section of the pen and do any sort of dance, and the dog would dance with you, according to the information provided by the researchers.

“This particular project actually took us about a couple of weeks, maybe a month to do,” Mariani said.

Focused on making robots that were more humanlike to aid autistic children, juniors Carina Suarez and Xinhuan Ying showcased a robot they programmed from Aldebaran Robotics, a company that manufactures and markets humanoid and programmable robots.

“Aldebaran gives us the robots, and then we program them. We basically had the semester to figure out how to do this … it’s a big task, but it’s really fun,”  Suarez said.

Suarez said the robot’s ability to interact with people is a unique feature, and it’s particularly useful in programming the robots to work with autistic kids.

“They look vaguely humanoid, obviously,” Suarez said. “They can hear, they can speak, they have touch sensors, so it’s really helpful for kids with autism so they can interact, which is really neat.”

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Rachel O'Grady is a senior Political Science major living in Ryan Hall and is currently serving as an Assistant Managing Editor. Hailing from Chicago (actual Chicago, not the suburbs) she's been a Cubs fan since birth.

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