Columbus State, Ft. Benning Robotics Partnership Enhances Student Learning and Employability

October 7, 2022

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Since its inception, Columbus State University’s robotics engineering program has benefited from strong relationships with the military community—most notably with nearby Fort Benning. As the U.S. Army embraces new and expanded uses of robotics, the CSU-Fort Benning Partnership has grown to benefit CSU students’ experiences in the classroom and lab, and their marketability in the workforce.

This partnership recently added a new faculty member to the College of Robotics Engineering, “Spot,” who is teaching Columbus State students about real-world applications of robotics in the military. A quadrupedal robot, also known as a quadrupedal robot, is arguably the military’s most important piece of technology, according to Dr. Ted Maciuba, deputy director of robotics requirements for Fort Benning. He is also a member of the CSU Robotics Advisory Board.

“Autonomy and artificial intelligence are what allow us to gain an advantage over our enemies as we move into the future,” Macioba said. “Our focus at Fort Benning is on micro-robots for small units. What we’re trying to do is push the military into the information age. Our technologies are 1970s technologies (updated of course), and robotics is the key to success for those countries that have the best technology.”

Robotic applications have increased dramatically since the 1970s and include a wide range of uses, from surveillance, search and rescue, combat, explosive ordnance disposal, firefighting, and transportation. Dr. Mahmud Rihanoglu, Professor of Robotics Engineering and Program Director, credited the military’s role in popularizing the use of robotics in industry and society.

“Robots make our cars, collect our online orders for shipping, and even clean our floors at home,” he explained. “Every day we discover new uses for these devices of all shapes and sizes, and these discoveries increase the demand for creative and innovative robotics engineers.”

Fort Benning had a problem with the mobility of their bots. Because they were built with tracks or wheels and were very lightweight, they were difficult to move around obstacles such as trees and falling rocks – just like what soldiers handle in the field. Fort Benning and Maciuba have come to the conclusion that they need robots that operate and move better in these types of terrain and environments.

After the techniques were suggested, quadrupeds seemed to be the right choice because these two-legged robots should be able to do what a dog can do. However, the Quadruple was teleporting, and Makuba wants the Quadruple to be able to understand and sense their environment and be able to move through it. He believes that CSU robotics engineering students can help with this by developing research proposals to try to solve the problem. CSU robotics student Sean Gillett explained that he and his classmates are trying to get a sense of how much Spot can do.

“Code-wise, we’re trying to figure out where the fasteners are in situ and how to get them to move up, and to move forward and backward,” Gillette stated. “Applying the transition from walking to running or speeding is a bigger step in trying to figure out how far we can push this kind of machine.”

The partnership gave Gillette and his colleagues access to advanced robotics equipment and expanded their reach to solve real-world problems in the lab.

“It’s a very complex machine,” Gillette explained. “Currently I’ve dealt with smaller bots with fewer brains, so you can simply load systems into them. Spot has two or three types of brains with multiple sensors attached to them and servers running all over it. I want to learn the inner workings of Spot so I’m At this level of machines and robots.”

Solve the problem of technical manpower shortage

Rihanoglu and Macyuba explained how the pool of robotics engineering talent in the local area lacks qualified candidates. CSU-Fort Benning’s broader partnership aims to attract and retain military and civilian talent in the region.

According to Reyhanoglu, research collaborations like this and guidance from advisory board members like Maciuba uniquely position Columbus for military service members who want to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree—or both—while at Fort Benning. The same is true for people who are transitioning into service or who have recently retired.

The Columbus State-Fort Benning partnership also includes working with regional technical colleges and high schools to generate greater interest in STEM fields in general — and careers in robotics specifically. Their plans include a robotics development center that, with training and hands-on experience, will improve the local talent pool for robotics.

“I loved coming to California State University and speaking to robotics engineering classes because there is a level of passion there that motivates me in the direction we are moving forward,” Macioba stated. “With a robotics engineering program, local high school students are more likely to stay here in Columbus, get this degree specifically in robotics engineering, and get a job here.”

Columbus State hosts Georgia’s only joint Bachelor’s/Master’s program in Robotics Engineering. At CSU, students prepare for careers in robotics and automation, hardware development, software development, and machine learning. In addition to the traditional bachelor’s and master’s degrees in robotics engineering, the accelerated robotics engineering program allows exceptional students to complete both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years.

The university’s range of robotics engineering offerings also includes an Associate of Science in Engineering Studies and a seven-course, 21-credit hour robotics certificate program open to all CSU students and others seeking to expand their knowledge in the field.

For more information about bots programs at California State University, visit https://www.columbusstate.edu/letters-and-sciences/robotics/.

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