Robots are first step toward Mars yard and Discovery Institute

November 19, 2010

Kids soon will find some fun new tools at the Space Foundation Discovery Institute in Colorado Springs thanks to a significant donation.

Honeywell gave funds to pay for more than a dozen robots for a simulated Martian terrain mission laboratory that will incorporate student-designed-and-built robots.

“The idea behind this lab is to have students build and learn how to program robots to complete specific missions,” said Bryan DeBates, Space Foundation director of Education.

“What makes this experience unique is the Mars yard in the lab, enabling students to operate their robots as if they were operating robots on the actual red planet.”

The Mars lab is scheduled to open next spring and will be available to students at the adjacent Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy and to other schools. DeBates said he hoped it wouldn’t be limited to students, as the lab could offer team-building exercises for teachers and even businesses.

DeBates said he plans to visit the Mars yard at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to learn firsthand the possibilities of a terrain lab and what can be done with the robots.

When built, the robots are about eight to 10 inches long with different kinds of sensors, so students and others can collect data. The terrain portion of the lab will have craters, hills, boulders and other features such as imbedded hoses, so sections could be moistened.

Students would then use one of the instruments on the robots to gather details on water.

Each robot costs about $500, DeBates said. The institute will purchase the robots in bulk so they receive a discount.

The data and experience would augment what is being learned in class, DeBates said.

“You can learn while having fun,” he said.

Honeywell’s donation is part of its community outreach and giving initiative, called Honeywell Hometown Solutions

“Honeywell is honored to be part of an education project that provides hands-on realism, with a dream. Simulation of the Mars experience will fuel student’s imagination within technical and engineering fields,” said Mark Clark, an engineering division manager for Honeywell in Colorado Springs.

The Space Foundation Discovery Institute opened in 2009 on the Swigert campus and provides space-theme professional development, training and support for teachers and students from around the world. It serves as headquarters for the Space Foundation’s education programs and houses classrooms, an Educator Resource Center and the AGI Space Missions Simulator.

The Mars lab will be the newest addition.

“We have bigger and better plans for this,” DeBates said. “We just have to wait and see how things come together.

Contact the writer at 636-0162.

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