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Robotics Club navigates first official semester fully charged

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013

Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 12:03

Robots of “The Jeffersons”-style fiction are built to cook and clean, but the Tufts Robotics club is building a club around more creative concept.   


While this year is the club’s first as an officially recognized and funded organization, Tufts Robotics is highly active, with members meeting up to six days per week in the Botlab, otherwise known as Room 101 of Bray Laboratory.


Tufts Robotics aims to provide students with an outlet to express their creativity, while engaging their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, its members said. According to the Tufts Robotics’ club website, the club’s goals are to “bring together like-minded individuals to share experience and have fun building robots,” and to “empower students with the possibility of getting their hands dirty and learning by doing.”


The club’s president, junior Quinn Wongkew, has had an interest in robotics since childhood and took over leadership this year from last year’s graduating seniors. It was a daunting task, he said. 

“Since the seniors left, we realized there was a big hole that we needed to start filling,” he said.


“We started brainstorming about how we could develop the club.”

Wongkew said the club’s members displayed some of their projects to the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate as a part of the process of applying for official recognition. 


“[I] and other representatives from Tufts Robotics had to show the [Senate]how 3D printers work,” he said.


Wongkew said that 3D printers, which are used in the club’s projects, are just one example of the technological innovations that draw significant interest in robotics from the student body. 

As a result of heavy recruiting this year, the club consists of about half freshmen — the remaining members are sophomores, juniors and seniors. Wongkew said he is encouraged by the interest from freshmen and he hopes that this will allow Tufts Robotics to continue to grow and expand in the future. 


The club, which has about 14 regular members, provides several weekly opportunities for students to learn and practice their skills. Along with holding general membership meetings once a week, the club hosts four tutorials a week on a variety of topics in order to reach out to the wider Tufts community. These range from basic trainings on using Arduino microcontrollers, a form of open-source hardware, as well as electromechanical systems like the servo and the motor, according to the website. Students from any academic background and any level experience are welcome.


“During first semester, we started by focusing on how to get people educated on basic Arduino, which is like the brain of the robot, slowly graduating them to cooler and more mechanical stuff of a full-on robot,” Wongkew said. “This [semester] we’re using that knowledge to work on projects but we still didn’t want to leave new people who haven’t been exposed to it yet, so that’s why we’re doing the tutorials.”


Senior Robert Hayes, a tutorial manager, has been impressed with the progress that students have made throughout the tutorials. However, Hayes constantly strives for improvement in how he and other club members run tutorials.

“We’re able to effectively run the lessons in the two hours we’ve allotted ourselves,” he said.


“Things can only go better in the future, as I’m certain, at least for my lessons, that the limiting factor is not the students’ ability to learn but my own ability to teach — this is something which I learn to do better each time we run a tutorial.”


Freshman Andrew Stephens, who is also an assistant layout editor for the Daily, attended a tutorial last week on basic Arduino and programming.


“The tutorial gave me a foundation of how this popular device could be useful for future projects,” Stephens, a computer science major, said. “I was able to get to know a great group of knowledgeable and helpful students who shared similar interests.”


Although Tufts Robotics mainly attracts engineering students — particularly mechanical engineers and computer science majors — the club has hosted have included students in liberal arts. The club hopes to incorporate all the talents that Tufts students have to offer, while especially engaging the skills that mechanical engineers and programmers have developed.


“In the past we’ve gotten computer science majors as well as other engineers and education majors,” Hayes said regarding the tutorials. “Our students are usually [undergraduates], though we’ve had at least one grad student attend a lesson and are working to get useful lessons offered for another [graduate student].”


Along with the tutorials, Tufts Robotics meets once a week on Fridays to work on their many ongoing projects. According to the website, these include the Bloombot, a hydroponic garden, and the Jumbobot, a battlebot designed to flip other robots. Both these projects and many more were designed to compete in the various competitions the club competes in roughly once a semester, according to Wongkew. 


Tufts Robotics is now focused on its next project for April’s Trinity Firefighting Competition, which the club participated in in 2010 and 2011. The robots built for this project, which can extinguish a burning candle through a maze, will require skill and creativity from programmers and engineers, according to Wongkew.


The club has also focused on robotics outreach in the greater Boston area, volunteering at the Junior First Lego League Team, where members teach first graders robotics, as well as volunteering at competitions for middle school students in the Melrose School district.

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