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To Encourage And Excite The Next Generation Of Engineers Through Human Robot Interaction Projects For Space Exploration

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Industrial Collaborations and Applications

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1494.1 - 12.1494.11



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Paper Authors

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Ayanna Howard Georgia Institute of Technology


Eva Graham NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Eva Graham is the current manager of NASA/JPL’s Minority Education Initiatives, in which she works to make sure that groups typically underrepresented in science and engineering will have a chance at success. She began working at JPL right after college, setting up organic chemistry reactions, then again after obtaining her master's degree from Tuskegee University in Alabama, in JPL's analytical chemistry lab. After teaching high school biology and chemistry for three years and doing outreach for undergraduate scholarships with the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, she found herself back at JPL in 2001. Her department, which is one arm of NASA/JPL's education branch, focuses on supporting historically African-American colleges, tribal colleges and those that serve large Latino populations.

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To Encourage and Excite the Next Generation of Engineers through Human-Robot Interaction Projects for Space Exploration


The robotics field represents the integration of multiple facets of engineering and science – from mechanical construction to intelligence programming to science data analysis. It is an ideal opportunity to showcase the relationship math and science have on tangible real-world applications. Unfortunately, the multi-disciplinary nature of robotics creates difficulty in using robotics as a pedagogical tool for the diverse learning styles present in different disciplines. The infusion of low-cost robotic platforms has alleviated some of these difficulties, but without an experienced and knowledgeable robotics instructor, the full benefit of this infrastructure cannot always be exploited. Yet, the field of robotics provides an ideal educational platform to encourage and excite undergraduate students. To capitalize on these benefits, we have developed human-robot interaction modules that combine human-robot interaction technology and space exploration problem sets into an intense design experience, in which emphasis is placed on the non-traditional skills needed for addressing challenging technical problems of the 21st century. In this paper, we discuss our intense “boot-camp” learning process that uses these modules for training diverse populations of undergraduate students. The underlying model is that by providing undergraduate students the ability to understand the linkage between theory and real-world applications, it increases their motivation to remain in a STEM-related major. Discussion on the approach is presented in this paper and validated through implementation with a pilot student population to provide supportive evidence of the observed benefits.

1. Introduction

An essential element of NASA’s education mission to inspire the next generation of explorers, requires that the public is engaged through the implementation of innovative approaches such as informal and formal education methods, science outreach, and research development efforts.1 One of the direct outcomes of this focus is to contribute to the nation’s educational goals by creating a bridge to provide students access to the research and development activities involved in space exploration, as well as to support and develop a pipeline program to encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists. Of special interest is to ensure that robotics research knowledge derived from exploration missions and programs is transferred to the educational arena.2

The current exploration vision of NASA is to develop the technology and infrastructure required to send humans back to the Moon and Mars.3 Some of the technologies that must be matured are those that are needed to support combined robot/human crews for establishing a base on the Moon in a safe and cost effective manner. Addressing challenging engineering problems such as this provide an opportunity to demonstrate real-world applications for science and technology outside of the classroom environment. Thus, the primary goal as discussed in this paper is to use robotics and space exploration problem sets as a basis for an intense design experience, in which students begin to develop and understand the relevant skill sets that are needed for tackling

Howard, A., & Graham, E. (2007, June), To Encourage And Excite The Next Generation Of Engineers Through Human Robot Interaction Projects For Space Exploration Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1542

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