Real-World Research, Out-of-This-World Fun

If you attended the Polytechnic Institute of New York University’s 2013 Research Expo, held at the MetroTech Center campus in Downtown Brooklyn on May 20, it was clear that you were taking a walk, or swim in some cases, into the future.  Whether it was the table devoted to mobile apps for intuitive human-robot interaction, where an awe-inspiring sleeved student, Vinicius Fernandes, was remotely controlling a small robot who prowled around spectators’ feet like an inquisitive pup , or Orlando Credendino, who was whizzing around in a manual wheelchair that he had modified with a detachable, motorized “E-Wheel,” transforming the device into the functional equivalent of a Big-Wheel with attitude, the expo showcased 40 of the most promising research projects from each of NYU-Poly’s academic departments, as well as the Media Lab, the thriving business incubators, and the K-12 STEM education program. 

Several of the booths at the interactive Research Expo, which was free and open to the public, were real crowd-pleasers among the elementary-school set, which swarmed the exhibits on video gaming, robotic fish, sports-simulation software used in physics education, and an elaborate radio-controlled model airplane built as part of the annual SAE Aero Design competition. (The NYU-Poly entry on display had taken first place in the advanced class of the competition the year it was entered.)

Attendees of the Expo were asked to vote for their favorite projects, and the first-place “People’s Choice Award” ultimately went to students Vinicius Fernandes, Jared Frank and David Lopez for their work on mobile apps for intuitive human-robot interaction—the booth that featured the aforementioned robotic sleeve as well as CAESAR, a humanoid robot-head that recognizes faces and greets visitors.

The second-place winner was a study on engineered proteins by Professor Jin Montclare and her students that demonstrated a way in which chemical weapons could be neutralized without the use of additional toxic chemicals—a matter of great interest to the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies. “This is particularly important research in light of the U.N.’s Chemical Weapons Convention, which calls for signatories to destroy all chemical weapons over a ten-year period,” Andrew Olsen, the student manning the booth, explained.  Third prize went to a project called “Fish and Robotics: Not a Take-Out Food,” in which Professor Maurizio Porfiri explored the interaction between live fish and realistic robotic fish—a study that has applications in the fields of animal behavior and biomedicine, among others.  (Also honored was the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, whose combined projects got more votes than any other department.)

NYU-Poly President Katepalli Sreenivasan, who gave out the awards, praised the participants for coming out to show “both the meaning and value of engineering—which brings technology to society—and the innovative engineering that goes on in our research program at Poly.” He went on to say that, “We have a responsibility to our surrounding community to solve the problems that exist, so we can be a better neighbor and active partner into the growth and success of New York and then the world.”  The crowds of engaged and happy viewers leaving MetroTech that afternoon were proof that he was right and that engineering is fun!