Robots give Walla Walla University students a hand up with studies

Two new robot arms have been installed at the School of Engineering.

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COLLEGE PLACE -- When many people hear about robots, they conjure up images of time-traveling cyborgs or other types of machines seen in science fiction movies and television shows. However, most robots are simply automated industrial tools used in factories and in laboratories, such as in the robotics lab at Walla Walla University, where two new robots were installed this month.

While these robots may not be able to cook you breakfast or chauffeur you around town, they will be able to give students in the Edward F. Cross School of Engineering at Walla Walla University a chance to work with professional equipment and understand the world of automated manufacturing and robotics.

Purchased using grant funds, the two identical Motoman Six Degrees of Freedom robots each cost $35,000, effectively replacing the university's PUMA 762, a much older robot that was not compatible with modern computers and ran on floppy disks. The new robots -- which will be used in two classes, both robotics and manufacturing systems -- look somewhat like a large mechanical arm that you might see on a factory assembly line. They are able to rotate through a total of six axes, and move in a series of motion quite similar to the human arm.

Don Riley, who teaches mechanical engineering at the university, made several comparisons between the motion of robot and the movement of the human arm. He also emphasized the practical use of working with equipment like the Motoman Six Degrees of Freedom robots.

"These are modern, industrial strength robots and they're smaller than the big ones we have," he said. "You can hit the record button and it will record all its positions and theoretically they can be used by any computer on campus. Learning more precise modern methods and giving students the opportunity to work with the robots is one of our major goals."

Senior mechanical engineering major, Tim Rasmussen was enthusiastic about the new equipment and was excited about using it in class very soon. He also understood that the practical experience of working with robots and being trained in robotics could have a strong impact on the future careers of him and his classmates.

"It's really exciting. Anytime we get new toys to play with it's fun," Rasmussen exclaimed, "It's exactly the kind of thing we'll be using after we get out of school."

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