Robots provide an engaging tool to attract students to science and engineering. For the past several years, the NSF-supported Computer-Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology Engineering Research Center, for example, has sponsored competitions in which teams of high-school students use special LEGO kits and computer software to design and operate robots that perform surgery-like functions.
Humans aren't designed for life underwater, so scientists have found many uses for robot submersibles. The RiverNet project, led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, samples pollutants in the Hudson River using solar-powered autonomous underwater vehicles.
Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Washington are studying whether robots make good pets. Many studies have shown that animals can provide mental and physical health benefits, and the researchers are exploring whether the same holds true for robotic animals. Unlike real animals, robot pets are easier for elderly adults to feed and care for.
In February 2004, a robot built one of the first walls ever constructed...
Credit: Behrokh Khoshnevis, USC
Industrial robots may also soon step away from the assembly line to other tasks requiring greater skills. A robot developed with NSF support has built the first wall ever constructed entirely by machine. About 5 feet long, 3 feet high, and 6 inches thick, the wall was constructed in the University of Southern California lab of Behrokh Khoshnevis. Khoshnevis believes that, by the end of 2005, his robots will be able to construct a one-story, 2,000-square-foot home on site in a single day.