Thank You, Mr. Roboto
Professor and student perform key robotics research for automakers
August 3, 2009
R2-D2 may be cute, but Ford needs robots that can do more than beep, whirl and project holographic images of princesses from a galaxy far, far away.
The automobile manufacturer wants robots to be able to work alongside people, placing and connecting parts to vehicles as a moving assembly line rolls past. And Loyola may play an integral role in the solution.
As one of the organizations collaborating with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Loyola—through a computer science faculty member—is conducting research to make Ford’s goal a reality, making robots more adept and better able to move in the world.
“We want to make a robot catch a ball or work on a moving assembly line, but the technology isn’t quite there yet. It’s not yet commercially viable—and it’s a problem General Motors, Ford and other major manufacturers want solved,” said Roger Eastman, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science, who has been conducting robotics research with NIST since 2006.
Eastman is helping lead a three-year, $2 million NIST project to develop standards for advanced robot vision systems. In addition to Ford and GM, Loyola is partnering with NASA, the Army Research Laboratory, Purdue University and other organizations.
More than Meets the Eye
While conducting research at the institute, which is based in Gaithersburg, Md., Eastman and Lisa Schneider, ’10, are also working to duplicate the NIST research in a laboratory on campus.
A mathematical sciences major with a computer science minor, Schneider has been working on calibrating 2-D images with 3-D laser sensors for the project. The objective is to enable robots to have multiple senses, similar to touch, sight and hearing in people. Eventually robots will have sight plus laser ranging to detect the distances between objects, and Schneider is working to coordinate robots’ sense of distance with their sense of sight.
When Eastman initially invited Schneider to do the research, she was nervous. “I had never done anything like this,’” she said. Now she finds herself eager to share the results with friends and family—who often need explanations to appreciate her work.
An Exton, Pa., resident who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics and become a college professor, Schneider worked at NIST for the past two summers through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.
Schneider is enthusiastic about her role in the research—and enjoys working with Eastman on the project.
“Sometimes professors have learned so much that it’s really over your head. He finds a way to bring it down to you,” she said. “He just draws pictures and finds a way to explain it to you.”
Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em
Schneider is not the first Loyola student to be involved in Eastman’s research with NIST. As a student, Jacqueline Kenney, ’07, worked for two summers at NIST through the fellowship program, where she was one of seven students—out of 120—chosen to give a plenary speech. Kenney is now pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts.
Other students Eastman has included in his research for NASA include Jay Corso, ’00, Rachel Knickmeyer, ’03, Jamie Smith Coram, ’03, and Matthew Wollenweber, ’04.
“At this point, my life is seeing my former students advance their research beyond the work here at Loyola,” Eastman said, “and that’s delightful.”