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September 30, 2021

National Science Foundation grant helps build robotic system that connects research across campus

Posted in: Home News, Research, Science and Technology

The MCROS team (from left to right): Michelle Zhu (Co-Principal Investigator), Amy Tuininga (Co-PI) and Weitian Wang (Principal Investigator).

Montclair State University’s research from linguistics and psychology to biology and math, earth sciences, chemistry, business analytics, and more is connected by a robotic system built with the help of a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation will.

Weitian Wang, Director of the University’s Collaborative Robotics and Smart Systems Laboratory, is Principal Investigator (PI) for the fellowship and works with Co-PI Michelle Zhu, Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Computer Science, and Co-PI Amy Tuininga. together, director of the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies.

On paper, the impressive robotic system may sound intimidating: “a multimodal collaborative robotic system” or MCROS that “drives a wide range of ongoing research projects sponsored by various agencies / organizations that promote multiple potential funding opportunities spread across four universities” . [College of Science and Mathematics, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Education and Human Services and the Feliciano School of Business] and 12 academic units “covering” five areas of focus “: (1) intelligent systems and advanced computers, (2) ecology and chemistry, (3) intelligent urban agriculture and food science, (4) human factors engineering and social sciences, and (5 ) interactive learning. “

But the researchers say the robotic system will also be something … adorable.

Robots in the system will be small and stocky, but agile and run on omnidirectional wheels. Your appendages will be interchangeable. Sensors will make them smart and capable of learning.

The robotic system will be called home to the Center for Computing and Information Science, where Wang says “other researchers can come to use the MCROS for indoor robotic experiments.” Zhu explains that the robot system can also be used “in the field, in the wild”. So it can help researchers do some dangerous things. “

“It will be able to do anything from teaching a foreign language to sampling plants to see if they’re ready to harvest,” Tuininga says. In fact, the robot system will soon be working with a vertical farm in Hackensack as soon as more parts are procured.

Tuininga explains, “Our vertical farm partners have a program for adults with autism. We can use the language development component to work with people with disabilities at the same time as plant perception. Because it is collaborative, the scientists and the adults with autism and the robot all learn from each other. “

In addition, the robot system aims to open up the MINT area to more students, especially female students and underrepresented minorities, with concrete and committed practical projects in robot-assisted courses and outreach programs.

In addition to connecting multiple disciplines within the university, the system will ultimately connect the university to academics nationwide and help researchers in Montclair organize robotics workshops with the latest in robotics knowledge and activities for local K-12 students, especially from underserved districts, contributing to the development and diversity of the future high-tech workforce for New Jersey and the country.

But before the robot celebrates its world premiere in April or May, there is still a lot to do.

“Before you teach the MCROS, it’s just a machine,” says Wang. “The MCROS will learn from human demonstrations to make themselves smarter, just as a student learns from teachers.”

Zhu adds, “Anyone can buy the hardware, but then we also make the robot intelligent by developing various types of artificial intelligence software. With the software, the robot is tailored to each different domain, every other problem. “

Tuininga says the project “shares computer science expertise with the entire university”.

“This is the beginning. It’s a gateway that opens up many, many new opportunities for collaboration on campus and off campus for interaction between people and technology.”

“Another feature is the uniqueness of our university,” says Wang. “We will have a lot of interdisciplinary applications from several universities and several departments. The unique selling point of our robot system is the cooperation. “

Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann. Photo by University Photographer Mike Peters.

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