September 29, 2022
Interested in learning how to operate Spot the robot or how autonomous vacuums navigate their environments? Curious about artificial intelligence? Just want to see some robots fight?
No matter your major or skill level, there’s a place for you within MU Robotics.
MU Robotics is an umbrella organization that brings together all-things robotics at the University of Missouri. While that’s mainly a subject reserved for Mizzou Engineering students and hosted by the Department of Engineering and Information Technology, the group is open to anyone on campus, said Cameron Ellis, president of the group who is an electrical and computer engineering major.
“We give you a lot of opportunities to get hands-on experience, but we’re also here to support students,” Ellis said. “We want to be a place where people interested in robotics can come and find ways to be part of the community.”
Even students who may be tentative should check it out, added Ryan Carlson, vice president and a mechanical engineering major.
“Our goal is to make robotics as accessible and approachable as possible,” he said.
This year, MU Robotics is working in the following nine areas.
This group of students works closely with Spot, the robot dog from Boston Dynamics. Mizzou Engineering owns two Spots and has access to an additional three owned by Ameren.
Students program Spot to autonomously navigate specific spaces such as Lafferre Hall, to complete missions that involve object detection and to use head gestures to reflect specific responses such as “yes” and “no.”
You may remember Mizzou’s Spot from last year when it performed alongside Marching Mizzou and the Golden Girls at a halftime show, making headlines around the world.
Robotic Arm Group
Students in this group are working to build a factory arm from scratch using a variety of skills in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering. The arm is designed to pick up objects and carry out specific tasks, and is a good group for those passionate about learning more about the underlying physics and implementation of robotic control and motion.
Using a swarm of Roombas with an Intel RealSense camera, this team is trying to program robots to map out Lafferre Hall and guide new students around the building.
This project has evolved over the years, Ellis said. Originally, the group tried to build a navigation robot using a car battery, but members ultimately decided it would be too clunky to be practical. Instead, they opted for a smaller, more scalable platform in the iRobot Create 3 (made by the makers of Roomba) which they hope will make the development process much more streamlined.
Handheld drones have a lot of potential when it comes to data collection, delivery and object detection. But you have to make sure the drone knows exactly where to fly and where to land. To that end, the group is programming a drone to find Spot — the robot dog — and land on it. If Spot walks to another place, the drone will need to automatically detect its new location.
Additionally, the group plans to get its certification for outdoor drone flying to expand the possibilities of the projects they can take on.
ML-AI in this case stands for machine learning and artificial intelligence, but don’t let that scare you. This group is more interested in the practical application of machine learning and AI than the complex algorithms that work behind the scenes. Using a platform called Edge Impulse, students can apply explainable machine learning without a lot of coding involved. The system lets students explore how machines make decisions based on the data they are given. From these teachings, they eventually plan to expand into a full-on project focused on smart home applications.
Come for the knowledge. Stay for the battling bots. This group is in the process of building two 1-pound robots designed to duke it out using various types of attachments. Some bots are sneaky and win by flipping their foes over, while others are designed to rely on sheer force.
This year, MU Robotics will compete in a 1-pound regional contest, but Carlson hopes Mizzou can eventually host a new 3-pound or even 12-pound competition.
While battle bots are entertaining, they’re also a great way to see how different engineering disciplines work together in robotics, from the mechanical functions to the strength of materials to electrical circuitry and coding.
“There are a lot of practical skills students learn along the way that they can then take with them to internships and their careers,” Ellis said.
Robotics Open Lab
This weekly session lets anyone come with a personal project or see what projects other students in MU Robotics are working on. This group is a great way for students interested in getting involved to learn about what groups would fit best.
MU Robotics formed an administrative group to give more members the opportunity to shape the organization. While the executive board is limited to a few students at any given time, this group allows any member to help lead the organization. This could be through setting up outreach events like inter-org game nights, leading inclusivity discussions, or planning new project groups. This group is an excellent way for members to develop their leadership skills and make a change in the college.
MU SURF Support
While not part of MU Robotics, the Mizzou Student Underwater Robotics Foundation (SURF) designs, builds, and tests autonomous underwater vehicles capable of completing complex tasks. This robot is then taken to compete in the Robosub competition in San Diego each year. Members of MU Robotics help promote SURF events and collaborate with the group on occasion.
“The MU Robotics organization provides a lot of opportunities to explore not only what goes into building autonomous systems but also the practical applications of robotics,” said Gillian Maurer, director of the Information Technology program and sponsor of the group. “It’s a great way to hone your skills in a fun environment.”
Interested in becoming part of MU Robotics? Come by the group’s Robotics Open-Lab session from 4-6 PM on Tuesdays in the IT Suite, E2430 Lafferre Hall. There, they can help you learn about the organization and find the groups that best fit you!
Want an engineering school that lets you build – and battle – robots? Become a Mizzou Engineer!