Once reserved for the pages of science fiction novels and appearing in lurid B-grade movies, robots have gone from fantasy to reality in just a few short decades. The field of robotics has seen a tremendous surge in popularity in recent years. This popular growth has been fueled by advances in technology as well as in the resurgence of robotics clubs in colleges and universities across the country.
Robotics is changing the way companies do business. Automated systems now handle the tasks once performed by humans, especially in hazardous manufacturing environments. Some of these robotic systems had their start in university labs and club spaces, where young engineers applied their talents and their passion to tackle everyday problems.
Harvard Undergraduate Robotics Club
Perhaps the most celebrated university robotics club is the Harvard Undergraduate Robotics Club (HURC). Although the club has been in existence since the 2015 school year, explosive growth in its membership has led to the club competing around the world in robo-competitions. In 2017 alone, over 100 members contributed to 8 different robotics projects, some of which were modeled after real-world scenarios. One of the most exciting projects the club has undertaken is designing and building a Mars rover vehicle for an international competition sponsored by The Mars Society. The Society’s University Rover Challenge is designed to bring out the best and brightest of young university-level engineering students.
In any project, developers of robotic systems must take into account specific parameters. For robots that must function underwater, waterproofing delicate electronics is only half the battle. Engineering students must also consider depth and pressure as well as the corrosive elements in seawater; each of these specific aspects must be addressed and overcome in order for the robot to perform as intended. Robotics clubs aren’t reserved only for university-level engineering students; high schools in the U.S. and around the world are now entering the field with robust clubs that compete in state and national engineering challenges.
Blending Math, Science, and Engineering
Building functional robots that can perform tasks is a multi-step process that blends aspects of several major educational disciplines. From the initial design to the launch of robotics systems, groups must work together to bring the robot to life. Robotics requires math and engineering as well as the physical sciences. Technical understanding of mechanics is also beneficial. With the rise of inexpensive chipsets and computer-based controllers, many robotics clubs have also attracted young computer programmers to assist with projects.
The Benefits of Robotics Clubs
In any educational environment, facing challenges and developing solutions are valuable life lessons. Young students need more in today’s fast-paced world than simple classroom learning experiences. Working together to identify problems and to overcome them with elegant engineering solutions teaches several aspects to students, such as the importance of teamwork, the foundations of technical skill, and the spirit of competition. Collaborating on a complex robotics project has given students exposure to other non-technical skills, such as time and project management expertise, that they can carry with them once they enter their careers. Robo-clubs are flourishing, and thanks to these clubs, the future of this field is very bright indeed.
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