The Rise of Robots at TAS


Step into 1D21 after school and you’ll be greeted by a room crammed full with chattering, excited students and high tech machines, from six 3D printers to milling machines, each precise up to 1/1000 of a millimeter.
This year, the robotics department brought in several new resources, one of which is TAS’s very own Baymax. The red research robot, Baxter, has cameras in its wrists and a ring of motion sensors around its head to help him detect where people are. Students are using Baxter to learn about automation and assembly and for Artificial Intelligence assignments. So far, Baxter has been taught to differentiate between two objects and place them in different areas.
Another new addition to the department is the water jet cutter, which was a gift from a donor. By increasing the pressure of water to 50 thousand pounds per square inch, the water jet cutter can cut through steel, marble, glass, plastic, wood, and almost any other material with a fast stream of water.
Previously, students had to use aluminium sticks to build their robots, but with this new machine, they can cut materials to their own design. “[Before], it was like using lego blocks. You can’t build anything without using the blocks,” said Mr. Fagan, one of the department faculty members. “Now, instead of being limited, we can let the design needs dictate the design.” While the advanced robotics engineering classes are using the water jet cutter to make machines, the 3D media arts design classes are also putting it good use by making aesthetically pleasing objects.
After students cut materials with the water jet cutter, they can use the new welding table, another addition to the department, to weld the pieces together into the desired shape.
With constant new equipment flooding in, the robotics program at TAS has exploded over the previous years. Four years ago, there were only a handful of robotics classes and one robotics team. Now, the department offers 29 sections of robotics and programming and trains four competitive robotics teams. All of the teams qualified for the Vex Robotics World Championships last year.
“The students who work in this lab love it,” said Mr. Fagan. “In between classes and after school they’re here, always working on projects for school and for themselves. They get an idea and they know how to use the lab, so I try to make it my job to say yes as much as I can. We figure out how to do things as we go.”