Not Just Musical Robots

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One of the most amusing things I’ve seen recently has been the video of UPenn’s quadrotors playing the James Bond theme. Watching this video, I can’t help but be reminded of a swarm of cartoon bees, all working together to bring pollen back to the hive and make honey. As funny a picture as that is, it points directly at the work that GRASP lab at UPenn is doing. Actually, this display is a representation of the diversity of the projects they’re working on, the power of innovation, and the extreme importance of STEM education. This is really something to think about. This style of quadrotor will have many applications in the future. Already, quadrotors are used for many military and civilian purposes, but being able to have them work in unison as a system offers possibilities that were out of reach even 5 years ago. This is one possible step toward the type of automated production systems we will need when we successfully colonize the moon or even as something more local like part of the delivery process for the Digital Doctor project I’ve set up a prize for. What we can’t lose sight of while we look to the future these innovations represent is that they would never have been possible without a good education in STEM fields. This research in biologically inspired autonomous robotics all comes from ideas and imagination, which, in turn, comes from the minds of scientists. Who are these scientists? Well, at one time or another they were students interested in STEM fields. For future innovation, we need to have people with great ideas to drive the process of research and development. If we want developments as exciting as the equipment Q was giving James in the movies, we have to ensure that students of today get the support they need to become the imaginative researchers of tomorrow.

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Naveen Jain