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Dancers and robots coexist on the dance floor

Submitted by Rachel Wright on April 16, 2014 – 3:30 pm2 Comments

Students in Engineering Technology and Applied Science are constructing an autonomous robot to be used in a future performance of the dance department.

Andrew Wright, associate professor of systems engineering, said the robot is going to be maneuverable with “lights and sensors to show emotions in response to stimuli from the dancers.”

“The next goal [after this performance] is to include autonomous behaviors such as going to a location, avoiding obstacles, and reacting to a dancer during the performance,” he said.

The students are building the robot for a class called Machines Design.

“The class is offered once a year, and we do a project every time,” Wright said. “[The] first time was with catapults to hurl a potato. We’ll stick with the robot next year.”

This marks the first time the dance and engineering department have worked together.

“Stephanie Thibeault [associate professor of dance] and I started talking about integrating engineering and dance and this is the result,” Wright said.

The robot will work as a platform for a dancer to stand on as it moves around the stage. The platform has a main support structure and gearbox. Spindles and wheels are on each end of the platform for maneuvering.

“It is built from the ground up. All of the machine is from scratch,” said Stephen Fitch, systems engineering major.

Wright said the robot would start off as remote operated for the safety of the dancers and to work out any issues it might have, but it will eventually react to sensors.

“We have been designing and building it for the past year,” he said. Students work on the robot in and outside of class.

“It takes up a lot of time,” said systems engineering mechanics major Demetric Dixon.

The robot is not a final project for students, but future designs are centered on it. When the robot is finished, students in the dance department will use it to begin rehearsals.

Parts and materials for the robot cost nearly $5,000, according to Wright. However, this does not include the robot’s design and fabrication, which would bring that cost to a much higher number.