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Test drive remote control bots at engineering open house

Submitted by Debra Damron
Phone: 450-8662

02/14/08

Computational science students from the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center will join University of Alaska Fairbanks engineering students in celebrating National Engineering Week by demonstrating the ARSC Remote Control Device project (RCDp) at the annual UAF Engineering Open House.

The Open House takes place 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 in the Duckering Building on the UAF campus. ARSC students will be showcasing RCDp in room 234 where visitors will have the chance to remotely operate devices located on the other side of campus in the ARSC West Ridge Research Building technical lab.

ARSC students have created a website for RCDp allowing users to drive the devices from virtually anywhere on the planet. ARSC research projects assistant and UAF computer science student Devin Jones programmed RCDp under the guidance of ARSC Systems Analyst Paul Mercer.

Jones says drivers use text, audio and video applications to try and complete specific tasks. With the aid of video cameras, drivers can see where their devices are located and through mouse and keyboard commands, direct the devices, or bots, to move a ball from one location to another. The tasks sound easy enough, but there are obstacles that include ramps, guiding the bots through one-way gates and working collectively with users at different locations to unlock a gate.

Since RCDp became fully operational, users from Italy, Korea and the United States have accessed and maneuvered the bots in Fairbanks. Mercer says users who have tried RCDp have commented that it is comparable to driver's training for Mars (Exploration) rover operators except that the occasional 30-second delays are short compared to the continuous 15-minute delays faced by operators of the Mars rovers.

Although in its second year of operation the program continues to develop. Jones is working with a UAF civil engineering student to design a battery recharging dock for the bots and the RCDp team recently added an interesting feature premiering at the Open House, using a Wii-mote to drive one of the bots.

Mercer says that while RCDp is comparable to a video game, "this is real because there are concrete repercussions for errors and irresponsible behavior." According to Mercer this type of project has the potential to be used in military operations, scientific exploration, collaborative problem solving and cooperative endeavors, to name a few.

CONTACT: Paul Mercer, systems analyst, Arctic Region Supercomputing Center, 907-450-8649, mercer@arsc.edu Ryan Smith, recruitment coordinator, College of Engineering and Mines, 907-474-7390, fnros@uaf.edu Debra Damron, communications director, ARSC, 907-450-8662, damron@arsc.edu Stefani Schruf, media student, ARSC, 907-450-8677, schruf@arsc.edu.