Innovation Lab Tackles Advanced Robotics and Engineering Challenges

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In recent weeks, the Innovation Lab @Ross has been building robots, evaluating National Geographic engineering challenges, and experimenting with Google Glass. Dr. Dave Morgan, Innovation Lab director and dean of science at Ross School, talked with Ross School News about cool things in the works for this specialized academy.

Innovation Lab @Ross is described as an academy for advanced students who are passionate about science, mathematics, engineering, media, and technology. Tell us about what students experience in the program.
There are three main areas of focus. First, we offer specialized electives—from programming courses to marine science to welding. All provide hands-on opportunities to invent, engineer, and test designs. Second, students take a Systems course, where they learn about chaos theory and programming models, and how this knowledge can be applied to real-world scenarios. Third, along with Urban Reininger, our director of instructional technology, I offer direction, knowledge, and tools throughout the school year to help students complete independent projects. They’re currently working on some pretty amazing projects, including a liquid nitrogen–cooled computer and hydrogen fuel cells, and studying medical applications of 3D printing.

What’s new at Innovation Lab @Ross?
In February, National Geographic asked us to evaluate its new Engineering Exploration Challenge. The students investigated real-life challenges explorers face such as designing a camera to withstand an animal attack, creating a wearable power system that can generate electricity to charge devices, and constructing a camera that can be raised and lowered into a forest canopy.

We also recently got our hands on some new technology, including Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and developer kits and two pairs of Google Glass. The M-Term students in Mo’orea are currently using Google Glass to document the marine life specimens they collect and to take photos and video of their adventures.

What’s coming up for the Innovation Lab @Ross?
We’ll of course continue with our robotics projects, building advanced robots with more complex navigation functions such as ultrasonic and infrared sensors and “behavioral” skills. Urban will explore the ethics of robotic design with the students. For example, robots of the future may be capable of providing medical assistance or cars will drive themselves. It’s a question of, “Just because I can build this, should I?”

The program has grown substantially in the first year and a half, and Urban and I have noted a significant increase in the complexity of the independent projects. The expertise, passion and confidence with which the students are inventing and programming is impressive.

As the program gets more sophisticated, we’ll do more engineering challenges, hackathons, and competitions. We’re thrilled that renovations are under way on the lab’s new site at 26 Goodfriend Drive, which will house workshops and electronic labs and give Innovation Lab @Ross room to grow.