A robotics lab is coming to the School of Engineering hoping to bring more hands-on experience to students, including BODE, a robotic dog. 

Chris Gordon, associate dean for the School of Engineering, said there is a basic need for shared space at the school that features robotics, because of the number of programs that offer robotics engineering. He said the lab is planned to be finished in time for the fall semester.  

“Technology and automation are very central to what we are doing in our day to day now. We want to showcase that level of activity and showcase what we're doing in school engineering,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the lab is going to be highly visible directly adjacent to the atrium, in order to showcase the activities that are happening in the School of Engineering. The lab is going to include several robotic arms that students can use to gain experience for future jobs. The lab will have collaborative spaces, as well as a drone cage, where faculty and students will be able to fly drones. 

Gordon said the lab will also house BODE (Boston Dynamic Spot Dog), a type of robotic dog that can be used both in classrooms, teaching students how to program a complex robotics system and outreach programs with local schools. 

“Basically it's a robotic dog. It's controllable. It's programmable. It's a very technologically capable robot, it can walk upstairs and it can go off-road in very rugged terrain. It's essentially a platform for a number of different attachments [such as cameras and sensors],” Gordon said. 

Mingshao Zhang, assistant mechanical engineering professor, said the robotics lab will increase students’ employment chances after graduation. Students who have experience and training prior to the workforce are highly desired as they save employers time and money

“We will teach students how to work, how to program [robotics] and that means it's going to be very competitive for students to get a job,” Zhang said. “It's a very big deal breaker for employees because they have to send those people to a specific workshop or industry workshop. It's very, very expensive.”

Zhang said he is very excited to be working with BODE, but has to remind people that it is not just an expensive toy, but a robot that exceeds many industry standards. He said BODE is one of the best commercially available vision systems and he would compare it to the vision and control technology of a Tesla. 

“If you think about it like a toy it's very expensive, if you think about an industrial robot, it's actually one of the most cost-effective ones,” Zhang said. 

Senior Kellan Smith, a mechatronics and robotic engineering major from Normal, Illinois, said the new lab will open up a whole different field of opportunities for students, in regards to an increase in hands-on practice with programming and running robotics systems.

“This is just going to be an entirely new way, an awesome way to do that and [the lab] give us a space to actually put the robots. I know that we work pretty closely with some companies in the area that are looking at donating their older robots. to allow us to understand them better,” said Smith. 

Smith said being able to use BODE allows him to see all of his lectures come to life, and allows him to experience the process he’s discussed in a classroom in a real-world setting. 

“It's an impressive piece of technology, because of the amount of cameras connecting to image correction connecting to algorithms and complex algebra, and it's impressive to see what actually goes into that and understand that now,” Smith said. “I can have a visual representation of what I'm doing,” 

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