Remote robot connects engineering students, UMaine cohorts

Engineering telepresence robot

Engineering major Cara Fiala explains a project to University of Maine students using the telepresence robot.

Credit: Penn State

Penn State Abington and Brandywine general engineering students used a mobile telepresence robot — an iPad attached to a self-balancing vehicle — to collaborate with students 500 miles away at the University of Maine.

The immersive technology easily bridged the distance, providing a two-way learning experience:

  • Abington/Brandywine students in the general engineering multidisciplinary engineering design (MDE) option remotely operated the robot at the PopTech Conference in Camden, Maine. As part of the senior robotics design course, the Penn Staters interacted with the New England students and others at the conference and experienced PopTech exhibits.
  • Maine students, enrolled in an online course connected to the conference, logged in to the Double Robotics unit physically located at the Penn State engineering lab at Great Valley in suburban Philadelphia. The Abington/Brandywine students led a tour of the fabrication workshop and walked UMainers, mostly non-technical majors, through their robotics projects.

Robert Avanzato, associate professor of engineering at Abington, explained that telepresence robots are becoming increasingly common in fields including medicine, education, and manufacturing. The Maine project gave students the opportunity to explore the effectiveness and limitations of remote two-way communication. 

The user can independently move the robot to different locations, including hazardous environments. Using the robot in this way supports strong communications and reduces environmental impact, travel time and expenses.

The telepresence robot gives students the opportunity to explore the effectiveness and limitations of remote two-way communication. 

The MDE program and the Abington campus each own a battery-operated Double Robot. Faculty use the robots to bring experts into classrooms and labs and allow the students to share their blossoming expertise with people in Maine and beyond.

Avanzato served as a guest lecturer on robotics and virtual worlds for the Pop!Tech online course, taught by Amy Cross at the University of Maine. The Abington professor also teaches the robotics design course for the MDE seniors. They plan to connect their students for PopTech again this fall.

Interested in exploring the MDE program or the Great Valley lab through the telepresence robot? Contact Avanzato at [email protected].

Avanzato Double Robot

Robert Avanzato, Penn State Abington associate professor of engineering, uses a telepresence robot to connect with students at the University of Maine.

Credit: Penn State

Earn a Penn State engineering degree in the Philadelphia region

The multidisciplinary engineering design (MDE) option of the Penn State general engineering degree is delivered by a consortium composed of Penn State Abington, Penn State Brandywine, and Penn State Great Valley. Students graduate with a bachelor of science degree from the Penn State College of Engineering.

Students spend their first two years taking foundational coursework at either Abington or Brandywine. They enroll in the final four semesters at the $2.5 million engineering facility at Great Valley. An internship is required prior to graduation.

The general engineering program is accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).