ORNL offers mentors, working space for students to build robots

Next generation of engineers meets the next generation of manufacturing.

Students from eight local high schools will work hand-in-hand with [Oak Ridge National Laboratory] ORNL scientists and engineers to build a robot for the FIRST robotics competition, a nationwide event that promotes science and engineering for high school students.

The FIRST robotics competition serves as a platform for ORNL mentors to educate high school students about advanced manufacturing. After school daily and on weekends, students are working with ORNL engineers and scientists to design robots that can play basketball. Starting from the ground up, students use additive manufacturing to develop prototypes and create working components and systems as part of their robots.

Lonnie Love, an ORNL senior research scientist in robotics, serves as one of the FIRST robotics competition mentors. Love credits Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST, with giving students a reason to pursue careers in science and engineering.

“Dean noticed that high school students were aspiring to be actors and athletes,” Love said. “He wanted to inspire kids to become scientists and engineers by getting them to work hand in hand with engineers to see what happens when you create something.”

Last year, ORNL supported Hardin Valley Academy in their rookie season and helped the students learn how to design, fabricate and test components. Three HVA students later conducted their senior project at ORNL with a focus on additive manufacturing, and their work resulted in an invention disclosure and interest from multiple robotics companies in licensing the technology. HVA was selected as the top rookie team in regionals and invited to nationals in St. Louis, where they were also one of the top rookie teams.

This year, ORNL is supporting eight high schools by opening up work space in its new Manufacturing Demonstration Facility to those interested in learning and using additive manufacturing technologies. In addition, ORNL is providing financial assistance, encouraging more ORNL research staff to volunteer as mentors and engaging additive manufacturing companies in providing financial support and hardware donations. Engineers and scientists are at the facility weeknights and weekends, working closely with the students and teaching them all aspects of additive manufacturing. On Saturdays, students gather for lunch to share progress and discuss challenges of building robots.

A goal of ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility is to focus on advancing technology – developing new materials, new processes, introducing in-situ feedback and control – as well as assisting companies interested in evaluating the technology for future products. 

Additive manufacturing, one of MDF’s thrust areas, enables the manufacture of components through additive processes, such as lasers, electron-beams and fused deposition modeling. Rather than being dependent on subtractive processes like cutting and turning, additive manufacturing starts from scratch, building with intricacies previously thought impossible.

“We’re like the three legs of a stool,” Love said. “One, we’re working closely with equipment manufacturers to help them improve quality control and looking at advanced materials. We’re also working with companies that are interested in trying out equipment. Lastly, we’re exposing the next generation of engineers to the next generation of manufacturing.”— Emma Macmillan, Feb. 9, 2012

Our sincere appreciation to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for permission to print this inspiring article.

 Reprinted with permission of “Oak Ridge National Laboratory“.

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