Lafayette-area students strutted their robot stuff at the city’s Main Library on Saturday, showcasing robotic contraptions designed for complex tasks in outer space, on the ground or below the ocean.
The demonstrations of the student-built robots were for the Lafayette Public Library System’s Robotics Day, part of the Lafayette Reads Together initiative.
Onlookers strolled through the three-story library as students from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Acadiana High School, St. Michael Catholic School, Comeaux High School and David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy gave small talks and demonstrations on more than 30 robots, which are soon to be entered into robotics competitions all over the U.S.
Amy Wander, the youth services manager for the library system and coordinator for the Lafayette Reads Together initiative, said Robotics Day was inspired by the book “Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream” by Joshua Davis.
The book, Wander said, is an inspirational underdog story about a robotics team from Arizona that beats the odds and wins a national robotics competition.
“We decided to do a Robotics Day to showcase what we do here in Lafayette because we have so many robotics clubs at the local high schools and middle schools,” Wander said. “We also have so many businesses that work with robotics and ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), and that was the type of robots they were using in ‘Spare Parts.’ ”
Paul Pryor, a junior from David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy, explained his team’s robot, which will be sent into space with an astronaut on March 22 to conduct a monthlong science experiment at the International Space Station.
“The experiment will test the effectiveness of an antibiotic against E. coli in a microgravity environment,” Pryor explained. “Bacteria usually acts differently in microgravity.”
Electrical engineering students from UL-Lafayette also were showcasing their three robots, which placed first and second in previous robotics competitions. The team will compete again in Kansas City, Missouri, on April 9.
They said they participated in robotics day at the library to share their passion with kids in the community.
“Honestly, I think the world and younger kids need to be exposed to this kind of stuff — this higher technology,” said Jason Risbourg, an electrical engineering senior at UL-Lafayette. “I think children need something to get excited about schoolwise, and engineering is great for that. I really hope more and more people get into engineering.”
Brock Kibodeaux, a 12-year-old student from David Thibodeaux STEM Magnet Academy, said his team builds robots that are entered into robotics competitions in which they are given specific challenges for their robots to complete.
He said students can learn practical tools for solving problems in everyday life, even if they decide not to become engineers.
“I think this is just a fun thing to do as a kid,” Kibodeaux said. “You can learn a lot from it, and once you learn more, you will be more successful in life. Let’s say something in your house breaks, you now know how to solve the problem. You can save money and don’t have to hire anyone to do it for you. It’s a great learning experience for everyone.”
Oceaneering International Inc. also presented its $5 million ROV, which is used globally for drill rig inspections and the installation of new equipment. Company representatives said they came to the event to help raise awareness and demonstrate how robots are used in the local industry.
“The future of small robotics actually impacts the future of industry robotics in the oil and gas industry,” said Scott Beggs, a technical manager who gave the presentation on Oceaneering International’s ROV. “So, that’s why we came out to this event today.”
The Lafayette Reads Together initiative continues through March with events that include a panel discussion and reception with Lafayette City-Parish Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, United Way of Acadiana President and CEO Margaret Trahan and One Acadiana President and CEO Jason El Koubi, who will discuss the book “Spare Parts” with the community.
“I believe this is something kids can work towards,” Wander said. “This is a job they can have in the future.”