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Robot Block Party

Robotics experts to demonstrate their creations at Museum of Science and Industry

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April 12, 2012 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University robotics experts Todd Murphey and Kevin Lynch and their students will demonstrate some of their cutting-edge robots as part of a National Robotics Week program (April 7 to 15) at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.

The Northwestern robots -- including a marionette and one that swings like a gibbon -- will put on a show most of Friday, April 13, and all day Saturday, April 14. Undergraduate and graduate students will be on hand to explain the “behind the scenes” of robotics, and Murphey will join a panel of leading robotics experts Saturday.

Visitors will be able to meet these Northwestern creations, among others, in the Rotunda in the heart of the museum:

- A large robotic marionette that someday, perhaps, may play a role in Disney World’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Learn about the challenges of translating movement into mathematical algorithms. (This work is in collaboration with Walt Disney Imagineering.)

- A small robot that mimics gibbons (such as those at the Lincoln Park Zoo), swinging easily across a steel wall. This is part of an effort to build robots that locomote in ways other than simple rolling and walking.

- A robotic arm that you can move by flexing your own arm. Electrodes on your arm will capture your muscle’s EMG signals and transmit them via computer to the robotic arm. The technology can be used in the design and control of mechanical prosthetics for amputees and neural prosthetics for spinal cord-injured patients, with the goal of restoring the ability to perform daily functions.

- A small humanoid robot that will demonstrate various capabilities, such as kicking a ball. This fairly unsophisticated robot illustrates the difficulty of mimicking the ease with which a person walks.

“Robotics is one of the best ways to encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” Lynch said. “Children already are interested in robots natively, and there are so many different fields that are motivated by trying to solve robotics problems.”

Lynch is a professor of mechanical engineering and Murphey an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Students from Lynch’s and Murphey’s groups will explain the intricacies of robotics -- design, programming, mathematics, electronics, mechanics and physics -- at the April 13 and 14 demos.

At 2 p.m. April 14, Murphey will participate in a panel of robotics experts discussing the challenges and successes of their work. His talk is titled “Making Marionettes Move,” a project he has been working on for five years.

Also that day, between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., Lauren Miller, a graduate student in McCormick’s Laboratory for Intelligent Mechanical Systems, will give a talk on “Biological Systems as Inspiration for Autonomous Robotics.” Graduate student Andrew Wilson will present “Engineering Robotic Prosthetics for the Human Arm.” 

Read about six professors in McCormick Magazine who are expanding McCormick’s robotics research.

Topics: Research