Boe-bots build opportunity

June 26, 2008

by Staci Parks

The College of Engineering provides freshman students with a chance to manufacture and design robots through its program “Living with the Lab.”

Stephanie Parker, a civil engineering major, said in the program, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, students
are given a robotics kit called a Boe-Bot,
and are required to program it to do specific
things, such as navigate a maze.

David Hall, the mechanical engineering
program chair, said the program helps students get a taste of different engineering disciplines.

“The robots allow us to implement multidisciplinary projects in the freshman year that do a pretty good job of illustrating various engineering disciplines,” Hall said.

“By doing projects that are typical of different engineering disciplines, students can better decide on what type of engineer they would like to become.”

James Nelson, the associate dean for
undergraduate studies for engineering, also
said he believes the program allows for an
introduction for the different disciplines.

“The Boe-Bot is not a robotics curriculum,”
Nelson said.

“It uses things from all disciplines,
building and manufacturing, electronics,
fluid mechanics, et cetera.”

Parker, whose team won second place
for its freshman design project, said she
found the program helpful.

“One of the things that [the grant] has
allowed [is] very progressive changes in the
freshman and sophomore curriculum,” Nelson

“We have a lot of focus on innovative
things and have learned to tie them

The program’s name, “Living with the Lab,” speaks for the model of the program.

“Since the laboratory travels to the places
where students spend their time, such as
dorm rooms or coffee shops, students are
‘Living with the Lab,'” Hall said.

“By completing many projects, we hope
that the curriculum fosters creativity and

Both professors agree that the program is

Nelson said the faculty meets together
regularly to discuss the program and how
challenging it is.

“Although we have designed the curriculum
to be challenging, freshman students
who apply themselves should have no problem
completing the robotics assignments,”
Hall said.

“In fact, most students think using the
robots is a lot of fun.”

Nelson believes the program will help
students learn problem solving skills that
are key for any engineer.

“This will help students solve the looming
crises, i.e. energy, environment, et cetera.” Nelson said.

Hall said he also believes in the appropriateness and usefulness of the new program.

Hall said, “Our aim is to involve students
in a wide range of projects to teach them
real skills and concepts that they can use in
their courses and later in their careers.”