Lockheed Martin engineer visits computer science class

November 7, 2010 — by Arnav Dugar

Instead of listening to a lecture or typing code into computers as they usually do in class, on Oct. 18 the AP Computer Science students gathered around the front of the room, interacting with five “LANdroids” milling about their feet.

These robots were a part of a presentation organized by Computer Science teacher Debra Troxell for the classes. Andrew Zimdars, a research scientist in the Modeling, Simulation and Information Services department at Lockheed Martin, spoke to the students about the work he does.

“It presented an example of what the Computer Science students would be able to do,” said Troxell. She hoped that it would get the students excited about the possibilities with programming, contextualizing the rules and skills they learn in class to a real world example.

The $100 robots, each running on about 20,000-30,000 lines of code, circled the computer lab, using the walls as guides. The students were able to pick up the LANdroids and turn them over in their hands, and one group created an enclosed circle with their feet, trying to confuse the robot inside.

After the students played with the robots, Zimdars gave a short presentation in which he described how and why the robots are built.

“You take a smart-phone processor, camera and accelerometer, put tank treads on it and you’ve got a robot,” Zimdars told students.

These robots are designed to automatically set up local wireless networks in situations when it is inconvenient to set up permanent wireless networks, Zimdars explained. They are used when soldiers need wireless communication in areas without networks or when scientists are exploring new caves.

The students enjoyed the presentation and were able to get a better perspective of the implementations of computer science in the real world.

“It was interesting to discover how programming can be applied to these robots,” said sophomore Sujay Khandekar “and can have practical applications.”

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