Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

January 6, 2013

Robot science — A boon to Bluefield State College

— Mercer County is fortunate to have local institutions of higher learning that offer their students academic programs that are as good as any that can be found in the country. One of those programs, located at Bluefield State College, is teaching its students how to work in an up-and-coming technology — robotics.

Robots have long been the subject of science fiction stories and movies, but they are now in the realm of reality. The military and law enforcement use remote-control robots to scout dangerous areas or handle bombs. America’s space program has sent robots to the planet Mars where they handle conditions that no human being could endure. One, dubbed Curiosity, is now exploring the Martian surface and seeking evidence about whether that planet was ever the home of life.

Most of the robots now in use have limited autonomy. In other words, they cannot think for themselves. Many robots could not even cross a busy street without human assistance. Science is a long way off from robots that could walk the family dog or serve breakfast in bed.

Students at Bluefield State are learning the skills they need to help robot science move to higher levels. They now build robots that compete against robots constructed at other universities. Basically, the robots try to navigate obstacle courses without human intervention. Bluefield State’s entries have won competitions against teams from institutions all over the world.

If plans move ahead, Bluefield State will help a team from West Virginia University create a robot that is more autonomous. The resulting robot will compete in the summer of 2014 during a competition sponsored by NASA. Bluefield State students are now working on another robot that will participate in another contest this year.

Designing and constructing these robots teaches students marketable engineering, electronic and computer skills they can put to good use in the workplace. The robots they build are not toys, but sophisticated machines that could find real applications in the real world. Industries use many robots on assembly lines. All branches of the military are exploring new ways to use robots; designers are envisioning everything from robot aircraft, tanks or even submarines. Space exploration will continue, and sending robots to distant planets and the asteroids is still cheaper and much safer than sending astronauts. A person who is well-versed in the skills needed to work with robots will be able to find a profession.

Bluefield State has brought a good program to a rural area that gives local students an opportunity to find careers with advanced technology. The program proves that the Mercer County area can support advanced technical programs, and technical jobs, that could enhance the local economy.

 

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