Swarming with robotic aircrafts, hoop-shooting androids and images of autonomous cars, the North Campus Research Complex appeared to be a scene out of a science fiction film yesterday.

As part of a celebration of the state of Michigan’s achievements in the field of robotics, the University co-sponsored an event yesterday with the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences — a nonprofit consortium of North American manufacturers. The 380 people in attendance listened to a panel of professionals discuss the role of the robotics industry and watched demonstrations of robots created by students at the University and at other colleges and high schools in the state, as well as by government organizations and state industries.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D–Mich.) addressed the attendees at the start of the event. He spoke about the state universities’ achievements in the robotics field and about the potential for the new technologies to create jobs.

Keynote speaker and Engineering Prof. Lawrence Burns, former vice president of research and design at General Motors, spoke about the future of self-driving vehicles. During his address, Burns lauded automobile development as an area where the technologies studied by University researchers can actually be implemented and substantially influence the auto industry.

“There are 1.2 million people dying on the world’s roadways,” Burns said. “This is epidemic in scale. I believe with the technology being developed and the pathway we are on to autonomous vehicles is literally going to eliminate these instances, save a lot of lives … resources, the environment and infrastructure.”

Burns showcased the futuristic cars — which he, along with a team from Google, designed — through animations depicting the automobile as lightweight, electric and able to communicate with other autonomous cars so that intersections can run smoothly without stoplights or without traffic slowing down.

Some of the robots displayed at the event include a remote controlled one that is being used to map North Campus, a smart wheelchair programmed to navigate routes and detect obstacles, and an autonomous robotic aircraft.

Engineering senior Adrian Choy, president of UM::Autonomy, demonstrated his club’s RoboBoat at the event. The autonomous RoboBoat was created by the club to compete at the International RoboBoat Competition and is programmed to drive itself through a buoy coarse and complete tasks without instruction from a human, Choy said.

Choy said he became interested in both the project and robotics because of the innovative spirit he saw in his teammates.

“The definition of robotics is pretty loose, so when people say that they do robotics, I assume they do anything as they want with engineering,” Choy said. “Half of it is practical, but most of it is just seeing if their crazy ideas will work in the end. You get around with a bunch of crazy people that want to take engineering further and mess around with their ideas.”

After the demonstrations, the University hosted a ceremony in which the panel members awarded high school robotics teams merits for their robots. Students from the Advanced Technology Academy in Dearborn won first place.

Mary Jo Ferguson, the team coordinator for the Advanced Technology Academy, said the team attended the event because it helped them practice demonstrating and promoting their robot.

“We are trying to practice talking about ourselves and our robot because we are interviewing for a Rookie All-Star award,” Ferguson said. “What brought us here was to meet sponsors, but we’ve met a lot of other cool teams too.”

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