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Berea Student Visits Robotics Conference

While other students on Berea’s campus were engrossed in finals’ preparation, Matthew Isaacs was in Orlando on the trip of a lifetime.

Isaacs, a 2006 Berea graduate, was in the heart of theme-park nation to present at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, quite a feat considering only 38% of applicants were accepted.

In the summer of 2005, Dr. Jan Pearce, Isaacs’ advisor, asked her student to help with her summer research project. Isaacs, a Math and Computer Science major, thought it would be a good experience, but had no idea that he would develop such a love affair with robotics.

Isaacs expected his work on the project to only last for the summer, but as he delved deeper into his research he had an awakening, and realized robotics was to be his life’s work.

“It combines a lot of my interests,” he said. “I get to work with the software, the hardware; there are so many aspects of the computer science and computer engineering I get to work with.”

The project originated at the University of Minnesota, where engineers built a blank robot about the size of a squared-off soda can with two large wheels on either end and sent it to Berea College. Isaacs, the acknowledged team-leader, along with Berea students Sam Ashworth, Bridgett Bynum and Chris Pemberton, worked to program the robots, known as eROSIs.

The robots were programmed to be search and rescue tools, especially for instances such as the attacks on September 11, where robots can fit better in confined spaces. Isaacs and his team worked to program the robots to create “swarm behavior,” an analogy to the insect world, which allows the robots to act as a group of some actions.

Each of the four robots programmed is full of technological capabilities. Flashing LEDs signal what operation the robot is performing, and an array of sensors and measuring devices relay information about heat, light, and the robots movements. Sonar was installed by the Berea team to make it possible for controllers to know the proximity of the robot to objects of interest. Wireless communication enables the robots to “listen and talk” with a computer to receive commands and send back information.

Isaacs believes the conference was a success, because many people showed interest in the students’ research. The guest lecturers and other research projects served as a learning tool for Isaacs, who is still working with the robots for the summer.

In the fall, Isaacs plans to move to Illinois with his wife of two years, Angie. He will begin searching for a job, and saving up money for graduate school in robotics. He hopes to eventually receive a Ph.D. in robotics, after which he will pursue a career in either teaching or research at a University, or other work in the robotics industry.

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