This Article written by Jonthan Van Fleet, was published in the Nashua Telegraph
on Friday, June 29, 2001. It was the FRONT page Headline
Friday, June 29, 2001
Nashua robot in museum spotlight
By JONATHAN VAN FLEET, Telegraph Staff
BOSTON: They huddled around the clear plastic case, admiring the shiny robot with exposed wires, gears and race-car-style mag wheels in the front hall of the Museum of Science.
It felt weird not being able to touch it anymore. Just minutes before, former and current Nashua High School students carried the robot, named Low Rider, through the museumís front doors and placed it on a pedestal, where it was encased in clear, hard plastic.
It wasnít the celebrated delivery they had hoped for. They wanted to drive the robot by remote control into the building, but museum staff had too many concerns.
Still, here it was front and center in one of the most famous science museums in the world and they built it.
"If it wasnít here, it would be sitting in a back room somewhere," said Chris Carnevale, a Nashua High student who helped build the robot with 32 other students under the tutelage of BAE Systems for the FIRST competition.
Museum staff call Low Rider the "grab" for patrons to visit the Current Science and Technology exhibit in the museum. That exhibit is up, but evolving.
"As soon as you get your ticket, youíll be looking right at it,"said Tania Ruiz, a museum educator. "You have to go past that spot before you go anywhere inside the paid part of the museum."
Carnevale said he likes where Low Rider is, at the front of the museum.
"As a little kid, you always come to the Museum of Science and now I can say I built something thatís in the Museum of Science," Carnevale said. "I think thatís pretty cool."
The Current Science and Technology center is designed to deliver the cutting-edge events and discoveries in the world of science to museum patrons as they occur. Spacewalks, eclipses, global climate changes, the mapping of the human genome and natural disasters are some of the things the CS&T staff may include in the museumís trademark presentations and demonstrations.
More importantly, the museum is keeping the presentations as fresh as possible, occasionally linking with news organizations to give patrons science news as it becomes available.
The museum is promoting the center as the science behind the headlines that people may read or hear about in the course of their day. They are balancing the sound bite with the technical science journal to present information in an understandable and interesting way.
The exhibit is dominated by robots, and Nashua Highís Low Rider is among them. So far, there are seven of them, with more on the way.
As the grab for the exhibit, Low Rider stands alone at the front of the museum, but in the blue wing of the museum, his fellow robots are not too far away.
Low Rider is among good company at the museum. Thereís Troody, a robot dinosaur modeled after Troodon formosus, and Genghis II, a six-legged walking robot that looks like a giant bug.
Thereís also a robotic tuna that swims with the same dynamics as a real yellowfin tuna and iROBOT, a Web interactive robot with zoom cameras, speakers and microphones that can provide a mobile presence and communication device at home. Thereís also a rover robot called ATRV Micro that uses wheels to traverse uneven terrain.
Some of the robots at the museum have taken years of research to develop. Equally impressive is the fact that Nashua Highís Low Rider was designed, manufactured, programmed and tested all within six weeks.
The museum got its hands on Low Rider after getting another FIRST robot from Northeastern University, which was the national champion. The museumís Ruiz bumped into BAEís Dick Ketchem at a presentation, and he offered the Nashua High/BAE robot for the display. Weeks later, Low Rider was in the front hall of the museum, situated below a famous human-powered aircraft hanging from the ceiling.
There will also be a touch-screen explanation about FIRST and the Nashua High students who built Low Rider. A 30-second clip of 3-D animation that won the team second place nationally will also be available on the touch-screen.
Soon there will be demonstrations of some of the robots. The Nashua High students were invited back to show off what their robot can do.
M.J. Morse, program manager for the CS&T exhibit, said the robots are there to give people an understanding of the reaches and limitations of robotics.
"Weíre going to give people an experience of robots different than they would see in the theater," said Morse, who calls herself the human behind the robots. "None of the robots do what humans do."
The reason there are so many robots at the museum is to give people an understanding of the diversity of their tasks.
"We want people to realize what they believe robots are and what robots actually are," Morse said. "I want people to walk away with an idea of form and function."
Morse said the exhibit will continue to change, with the addition and subtraction of different robots.
Robot offspring, which are robots made by robots, will be coming from Brandeis University. Other robots, such as Troody, are made at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Because most of the robots are made close to home, the display has a temporary name of "Local Robots" but the museum has yet to officially name the exhibit within the CS&T center.
The competitionís name, FIRST, means "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology." Teams from across the country are given a box of parts, the scope of the playing field and a list of tasks to complete for points.
The robots compete against one another and in teams, achieving specific tasks in order to get points. One of the things Low Rider could do was automatically balance itself on a teeter-totter. That programming, designed by high-schooler Bobbie Jean Harriman, won a Leadership in Control Award at the Northeastern Regional Competition in Hartford, Conn.
BAE Systems, formerly Sanders, sponsors the Nashua High team and allows the teen-agers access to the companyís sophisticated machine shop, software and design tools.
Nashua Highís team placed 53rd out of more than 350 teams at the national competition and placed eighth at the regional contest. Just two weeks ago, the team beat the national champion Northeastern robot at a competition at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
"Itís about leadership, itís about teamwork, itís about mentoring," said John Bugeau, BAEís director of mechanical engineering and one of the adult advisers for the team. "Take all the best things from any sports team, and this has all of it."
Bugeau said the FIRST team deserved more community recognition. Carnevale agreed.
"You always hear about the football team and the basketball team, but all we get is a little article in the school newspaper," Carnevale said. "There are kids at school who donít even know we exist."
Bugeau hoped that having the robot at the museum would inspire more young people to participate in the FIRST program. "This is one of the greatest science museums in the world, and hereís our robot," he said.
The six students who came with as many BAE engineers to deliver the robot Thursday couldnít stop looking at their polished aluminum creation under the glass.
"I never thought Iíd see it here," said Harriman, who will be a senior at Nashua High next year. "Itís just, wow."
Even Ruiz was excited.
"I thought it would be smaller," she said, thankful that it fit in the case she set up for it. "It looks so great."
As soon as the robot was encased, people inside the museum started to come up and look at it. Two young brothers spotted it from across the hall.
"Look, a robot," one yelled.
The high-schoolers took it all in with pride.
Aaron Lussier, who will be a junior next year, said FIRST is one of the best things heís done.
"Iíve done a lot of sports but I could never get into it," he said. "This I can get into."
Lussier said heís told a lot of people about the robotís display at the front of the museum.
"Itís the satisfaction of knowing I helped build that robot that is in the Museum of Science," he said. "We want to get more people involved in FIRST and make it explode."
Jonathan Van Fleet can be reached at 594-6465.