When we first started talking with Olin College of Engineering in 2010 about a collaboration, they were very interested in Ocean Alliance providing their students with real world (or applied) challenges. A rapidly growing part of our oceanographic research program is the field of robotics, particularly as it applies to developing benign research techniques (those that cause no harm). SailBot, SnotShot and SnotBot are three good examples. As Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr has spoken at different schools and events he has noticed a lot of interest in this field of robotics, so from our work with Olin and this interest came the idea to build the Applied Robotics Research Laboratory and Club at the Paint Factory, our headquarters in Gloucester, MA.
The function of the laboratory will be to support our ongoing development of new oceanographic research tools with Olin College students; the idea behind the club will be to provide an after school space that will be run by Ocean Alliance staff and volunteers to work with regional schools, Maritime Gloucester and the Sea Scouts for any dedicated robotics projects they may have. To build today’s machines requires a very diverse skillset. You need someone who can build the physical machine; you need someone who can wire up and solder all the different electronic components; you need someone who can program the onboard computers; and then you need someone who can drive or fly the machine. Each of these four disciplines fit well into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum needs and can support area youth with the skills they will need to join today’s high tech workforce.
One of the largest technology employers in Cape Ann is Applied Materials, so our thought was to approach the Applied Materials Foundation to support this work. We are very excited to report that this week we received a generous grant in the amount of $25,000 to equip and set up our robotics lab. Ultimately we see this lab going upstairs in the larger brick building of the Paint Factory that will be going through restoration work this summer and we are already discussing the idea of an open house Robotics Day at the Paint Factory this summer to launch the club, with a display of Olin-built drones and technology.
Thank you to the Applied Materials Foundation for helping to give the middle and high school youth of Cape Ann a head start in the developing field of robotics.