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New Albany High School

Students develop smartphone app to control rescue robots

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Five New Albany High School students are working on a smartphone application that would be used to control robots conducting search and rescue missions.

"In an emergency situation, a team would be able to respond immediately to a situation by pulling out their smartphones," junior Nathan Lehman said.

Senior Daniel Lehman said if robots were sent into an emergency situation with no visibility, the person controlling the robot would be able to maneuver it from a smartphone using an image of the robot in a virtual world that mirrored the environment of the emergency.

Senior Mayank Ekbote gave another example of a cargo plane flying over an emergency situation. The plane could drop robots to the ground and experts who might be in another country could control the robots by using a smartphone and a virtual laboratory.

"You could have one (smartphone) in the hand of someone in the U.S. and be responding to something in China," Daniel Lehman said. "It's completely limitless as long as you're connected to Wi-Fi."

The four seniors and one junior worked on the project through the Summer at the Edge program, a paid internship at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. The program is designed for college students who work on the base at what is called the Discovery Lab. Students work as a team and solve a problem that has real-world applications, such as the smartphone application to control the robot in a virtual environment.

The New Albany High School students did not travel to Dayton. Instead, they spent five weeks working on the problem at their home school, using links to the Discovery Lab they created last school year.

The college team began its work in June at the Discovery Lab and had 10 weeks to complete the problem. Though the high school students spent only half the time on the problem, both teams created plausible solutions, senior Lauryn Woodyard said.

"They had twice as much time as us and they worked a couple of hours longer each day, eight hours versus six hours," she said.

"Most of our success was because we weren't there (at the Discovery Lab)," Nathan Lehman said. "We didn't know how far behind we weren't."

"We assumed we were behind and that motivated us," senior Davan Pohar said.

Rob Williams, research director of the Discovery Lab, said he was impressed by the students' efforts.

"Although it wasn't a competition, their results were comparable to the results of a team of college undergraduate students on site at our Discovery Lab working in similar technical areas," Williams said. "I was so impressed, we offered each senior on the team a full-time paid research internship in next year's Summer at the Edge program if they so choose."

Woodyard said it sparked conversations about how more high school students could take advantage of the Summer at the Edge program by working off site.

Jon Stonebraker, New Albany's technology coordinator, said Williams and New Albany high school technology teacher David Herman are working together to expand the program.

Most of the students said they learned something about themselves and potential careers from the internship.

"It was good for us to build our own skills and to collaborate as a team," Pohar said.

"It showed us what we can do as a group and as individuals," Ekbote said.

Woodyard, who was the team leader and communicated with the Discover Lab on deadlines and the team's progress, said it helped improve her communication and social skills.

"It's done a lot for me. I've never been much of a social person," she said. "My role as a team leader, in charge of communications between us and Dayton, really helped me a lot."

Nathan Lehman said he learned how stringent real-world deadlines can be and the importance of self-discipline.

"With great confidence, I could go into a job that an adult has and be able to do it," Nathan Lehman said. "The work we've done was real and the way we went about it was real."

Daniel Lehman agreed, saying they had to be self-motivated to continue the work and move forward with the project.

Pohar, the only student who didn't accept payment for the internship, said he learned that he could combine his interest in physics with his love of technology to study something such as astrophysics. He said he did not accept compensation so he could use the internship as his senior seminar project, a graduation requirement at New Albany High School.

Ekbote and Daniel Lehman plan to study computer science in college.

Woodyard said she is interested in a career in mechanical engineering or aerospace engineering.

Nathan Lehman said he is unsure about a career path, but he is more interested in computer science and computer engineering after completing the internship.

Herman said the students' work with the Discovery Lab could lead to more internships in 2013.

He said three options are open to students: full-time paid internships for graduating seniors, who would reside at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; part-time paid internships for "excellent rising seniors and below (grades) that could be held at the high school;" or leisure-time internships that may or may not include compensation.

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