Student Project Day showcases robots, iApps

Courtesy Photo /

Courtesy Photo /

Derek Wolff

Grand Valley State University’s Padnos College Engineering and Computing will host the third annual winter semester edition of Student Project Day on Thursday from 10 a.m. until noon.

Projects will be spread out among the five floors within the Kennedy Hall of Engineering and Keller Laboratories on the Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids. The event is open to the public, while local middle and high school student classes will also attend to learn about future technological advancements.

The competition will feature around 20 projects from 50 students, with some individual presenters and some teams. A two-fold judiciary process occurs, as the faculty chooses a top project based on technicality and the public chooses another winner based on popular demand, appropriately dubbed the “People’s Choice Award.”

The event has been a success with the public in the past. Seymour and Esther Padnos College Outreach Coordinator Sara Maas cited the learning experience for younger students as a crucial reason for the events successes.

“It has been very well received in the past, and it is nice for parents and younger students to be able to talk with the Grand Valley students,” she said. “It is a great atmosphere for younger students if they want to go into the computing or engineering fields.”

Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, agreed with Maas that Student Project Day is beneficial for both Grand Valley State University students participating in the event and the general public.

“Student Project Day is a great opportunity for students to display the fine work they do and the great hands-on experience of our programs,” he said. “It also gives our students more experience making public presentations, and really honing their presentation skills.”

Previous projects have yielded robots that could play air hockey, mobile applications for iPhone, medical devices for sectioning organs, animal research tools and specially-designed wheelchairs. Last year’s faculty awarded winners designed a robot for Robowaiter, a program which builds robots to help the disabled.

This year’s team behind the Robowaiter robot consists of GVSU sophomore Jake Hall, Kyler Kamysek, Josh Friend, Kathy Drouillard and Travis Thran. The team is coming fresh off of a first place win at the 2010 National Fire Fighting Home Robot Contest at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

The contest challenged students to create robots that could help people with disabilities by implementing new devices, such as enhanced vision systems and height adjustment mechanisms. Hall said this year’s model robot featured these improvements, as well as new improvements for lifting and grabbing. He cited GVSU’s engineering program as a crucial reason for his group’s successes.

“We feel like we’ve gained a whole round of experience, using the multiple array of skills and resources we’ve gained at Grand Valley to be successful,” Hall said. “Student Project Day provides a hands-on experience for Grand Valley students. It’s helping us get our names out there, far beyond students at the University of Michigan or Michigan State University.”

All of the projects featured on Thursday will be an important and exciting look into the future of technology. The different angles of the public and the faculty in grading the projects will give invaluable feedback to the students, Maas said.

“It is great for the Grand Valley students to work on presenting their projects on different levels by applying the cool factor for younger students while explaining the technical advantages to faculty and parents,” Maas said.

Admission to explore the ideas and devices of tomorrow is free.

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