Developing Collaborative Relationships Between Penn and China

September 30th, 2015

Through the magic of technology, a robotics symposium held jointly in a University of Pennsylvania classroom and at the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing allowed the School of Engineering and Applied Science and middle school and high school students to share their work in hopes of developing international engineering partnerships through robotics.

Researchers in Penn Engineering’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception, or GRASP Laboratory, along with Central High School students and middle school students from the Penn Alexander School, exhibited their work via telepresence presentations in a Huntsman Hall classroom the evening of Sept. 9 Philadelphia time, the morning of Sept. 10 Beijing time.

Middle school students from China were scheduled to present their ideas in person from the Penn Wharton China Center, but they were unable to attend because of their school schedule, so they showed a video of their work at the symposium.

SEAS graduate student Turner Topping demonstrated how a six-legged robot named X-Rhex can navigate different terrain.

“You can think of all of the factors that might go into walking that we don’t think about, but robots might have to,” says Topping. “What kind of ground am I stepping on? How bumpy is it? Is there grass on it? Is it wet?”

Topping shared with the attendees that Rhex is able to walk over bricks and grass and walk up stairs.

Penn Engineering also showcased the agility of its quadrotors by presenting a video of quadrotors programmed to fly through large rings and of the flying robots being used to play the James Bond theme music. The video has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube.

Members of the Central High School RoboLancers team shared their work on a robot that aims to lift a ball in a container.

Students in the Penn Alexander group, only in its second year of existence, have been learning about creating a robot as part of the school’s First Lego League team.

“Now that I’m in the eighth grade and have a better opportunity of being on the team and being a bigger part of it, I can give my ideas to the group and help construct a robot and come up with ideas for a project,” says Noe Bunster.

“They were learning from scratch what it meant to program a robot, to build a robot,” says Stephanie Kearney, Penn Alexander middle school science teacher and the First Lego League Robotics coach.

Through their work on the robotics team, the students are learning to be creative in the building process, as well as developing skills in working as part of a group, problem solving and gaining experience in time management.

“We only have a certain amount of time before our first competition, and we have to complete our entire robot in that time,” says Hana Lampson, a PAS eighth grader. “We don’t get very much time in our school day to work on it, so we need to work efficiently and manage our time well.”

The Penn Alexander School at 42nd and Locust streets is a neighborhood public school created by the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia school district. Penn subsidizes PAS with more than $1,300 per student each year. Led by the Graduate School of Education, many Penn schools and departments work with PAS to enrich the students’ educational experiences.