Robot Expo Brings Physics to Life

Demonstrating the practical application of an education in physics, the California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) physics department will host its second annual Robot Expo and competition on Friday, December 10, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at The McMahan House. Expanding the expo this year to allow local community members to compete in the contest, this free annual event invites physics enthusiasts and the public to put reason and logic to the test.

Developed by adjunct professor of applied physics Dr. David Schaafsma, the expo features original robots constructed by teams of students in Schaafsma's physics 402 class, who are tasked with the assignment of designing and programming a micro-system. At the expo, a panel of judges comprised of professors, industry experts, and community representatives evaluate each robot on its ability to function as designed, as well as each respective team's ability to communicate, in layman terms, the technical processes the robot undergoes to perform those tasks.

"It's a very hands-on class and you're responsible for everything you produce," said senior computer science major, Brodie Kurczynski, who will be competing in the December 10 event. "It'll be a great to showcase our robot at the expo and help expose the community and other students to the exciting field of physics."

Kurczynski and his teammate Francisco Gordin are creating an autonomous navigation robot using the shell of a radio control car. The pair is constructing and encoding a software system that will enable their robot to locate its own geographical position, determine the direction it needs to travel, and detect and avoid obstructing objects in its path while completing a pre-mapped course at a speed greater than a car controlled by remote.

Other teams in the physics class are also developing prototypes that include sophisticated features such as voice-controlled robots and a robot storm of mini-bots that will communicate and interact with each other.

"For every minute of actual building that goes into the robot, we've spent about 30 minutes theorizing that one step," shared Gordin. "This is practical, hands-on learning."

Easily students will spend a couple hundred hours from start to finish developing and building just one of these robots, explained Schaafsma. Among those familiar with the extensive time and effort that goes into creating these technical machines is recent CSUSM alumna Liz Robertson, who participated in the inaugural Robot Expo last fall.

"Of all of the classes I took in college, this course was the most practical and empowering for me. I gained so much knowledge in the process of creating a robot. It put theory into motion and placed a tremendous amount of career possibilities within my reach," she said.

"This course offers a lot of ‘a-ha moments' for students," Schaafsma added. "It's more than robotics; it's about understanding the hardware of an embedded micro-system, what it does, and how the software code interacts within that system."

To register an original robot in the second annual Robot Expo and competition, email Dr. Charles De Leone at cdeleone@csusm.edu.

Developed by adjunct professor of applied physics Dr. David Schaafsma, the expo features original robots constructed by teams of students in Schaafsma's physics 402 class, who are tasked with the assignment of designing and programming a micro-system.