Brandon Michelsen, Garren Koller, Ke’Ondrae Mell and Dylan Crockett are considered by UAT faculty, peers, and staff as outstanding, hard-working students. Due to their impressive combination of skills and experience with machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced programming, robotics, software development and app integration, they were selected as interns for a robotics project with UAT’s on-campus, co-working space designed for tech companies, Perimeter83.
The internship, referred to around campus as The Loomo Project, “is meant to be an application of social robots programmed for Perimeter83 functions,” said Brandon Michelsen, the project lead. Loomo, an advanced personal robot developed by Segway Robotics, is a “mini-transporter and robot sidekick that captures photos and videos,” Tech Times described in a review of the product. Many that own a Loomo, however, have likely not utilized the product’s full capabilities.
Loomo is an intelligent robot that can be reprogrammed for whatever the programmer decides will be Loomo’s functionality. Segway Robotics provides developers with a Software Development Kit, or SDK, for the Loomo device. "The vision, navigation, and speech features all came from the Loomo SDK", says Brandon.
These UAT students are working to program Loomo to transport items in response to voice requests during events or Perimeter83 meetings with guests and tech companies who co-work onsite or utilize the campus. “People will have the ability to choose paths they want Loomo to follow, and it will travel along those paths. In addition, people will be able to talk to Loomo and have it perform tricks,” says Brandon.
The Students and Roles for The Loomo Project
Brandon is handling the path planning portion of the project. “This involves measuring the paths we want Loomo to be able to travel around and implementing the code that lets Loomo navigate those paths,” he said. “I'm also dabbling a bit in the media portion of the project by building a website for the Loomo Project.” The team will be able to utilize the UAT Transport Robot site, where they log updates and progress on The Loomo Project in their robust portfolios developed during their time at UAT for showcasing to potential employers.
Garren’s role is to attach the cart using 3D printed connectors that he designs, digitally models and tests. He also has to identify or create specific hardware that compliments the build. In addition, he will be setting up lights for the cart to have indicators.
Ke’Ondrae is no longer working on the project, but during his semester working with the team, he initially handled the serial communication protocol and application development for Loomo to communicate with the cart.
Dylan is new to the internship this semester, taking over the programming and application development role, specifically with the facial and voice recognition so Loomo is able to follow commands, and eventually, recognize people that it has met before. “I came into this project knowing nothing about Android or Java development but have managed to learn what I needed to work on the project in under a week. The main resource on this project was our product owner, Jacy Smith. She has been very helpful in providing us with information about what the project requires as well as mentoring us on what we should expect from other work/internship environments,” says Dylan.
“Dylan is learning how to use android studio to get functions into the application, which can be challenging for someone who has never used this application software before. It’s exciting to watch his and the team’s progress,” shared Jacy Smith, Perimeter83’s Workforce Development Director and Project Manager of The Loomo Project.
Navigating New Terrain with Loomo
As anyone who works in artificial intelligence, machine learning and application development could tell you, there are many challenges expected when trying to program a robot to carry out specific functions. This is typical with anything technical, but having a passion for understanding how things work and problem-solving will enable the creation of innovative solutions. These are fundamental qualities all UAT students must have in order to be accepted and do well with their project-based studies.
“It’s been a bit of an uphill climb,” Brandon said. The challenges he personally faced with his role in The Loomo Project were involving the learning and understanding process within the development environment. “To develop for Loomo, you have to use Java for Android Studio. Most of my experience is in embedded development, which uses more C/C++ than Java, so I had to learn a new programming language as well as a new system,” he shared.
A big challenge the team faced together was with the autonomous navigation system. Brandon shared that in order to use Loomo’s navigation system, you have to reset several functions of Loomo. However, it repeatedly crashed the application. “I fixed the issue by using the ‘resetting a specific area’ within Loomo’s programming, but I had to figure out how to use the navigation system,” he said. Brandon then went into to detail to explain that when navigating Loomo, the surrounding world is a coordinate system with destination points represented by X and Y coordinates. In order for Loomo to move in a certain way, it requires many more steps than you would originally think. After a few days of troubleshooting, they were finally able to figure out the essentials needed to program Loomo how to navigate properly.
Garren also had to design a connector that allows wires to be ran through the fabrication, and it was quite a challenging task that took a series of 3D printed prototypes. Ke’Ondrae shared that his biggest challenge working with Loomo’s communications was identifying libraries that would be compatible and allow the team to still be able to do what was needed efficiently, without breaking another code that was built for Loomo. “There is little to no documentation available on Loomo currently, so our UAT students are pioneering this task in order to share what they’ve learned and discovered,” commented Jacy Smith.
Taking on the initial efforts of documentation for how to work on and reprogram Loomo will make it an easier process for others interested in personalizing their own transport robot. The Loomo Project group is excited for the opportunity to become secondary experts to the creators on this specific piece of technology.
In addition, with the team’s intense course load, work schedules, leading the Robotics club and other UAT clubs and activities, as well as involvement in the UAT’s Space Exploration team, “having enough time for this project is a huge problem,” and the reason why Ke’Ondrae had to take time off after the first semester of working on the project. The team shared how they work together to troubleshoot all challenges they face, including coordinating schedules to more effectively collaborate on the project and achieve the milestone expectations set by Jacy. These are all critical, real-world challenges any advanced technology professional must master in order to be successful at any project, especially when other people, deadlines, and limitations are involved.
The Fun Side of Loomo
The Loomo Project isn’t all trial and error, however. When Loomo is in Segway mode, it is a splash-proof, rideable Segway with multi-terrain mobility, 30 miles of range and Powerful AI that incorporates Intel RealSense technology to ensure a smooth and safe ride. Every time the interns work on Loomo, one of the students retrieves him from his charging location and rides the Segway to UAT’s Engineering Lab, or perhaps makes a little detour to explore the scenic campus settled in beautiful Tempe, Arizona, buzzing by the mountain views, palms, orange trees and Maxwell, the infamous campus cat. “Loomo is a lot of fun to ride around on once you get the hang of it,” said Brandon.
“And Loomo running into walls is always funny,” said Garren, while the team shared stories of funny moments while working on the robot's navigation capabilities. Once in follow mode, Loomo rebelled and interrupted the regular flow of university traffic, causing some unexpected entertainment. Another time, they had been testing Loomo for a couple of hours to attempt to navigate into the doorway and center of the room in Perimeter83. “Loomo kept missing the turn to go through the door. Finally, the turn lined up with the door and it looked like Loomo would go in. We all stood watching, excited for it to finally work. Loomo moved up to the door and then...stopped, right in the doorway. We thought it was really funny.”
The ability to find humor in what would be a frustrating situation for most is admirable. Most importantly, having humility to learn from errors and apply lessons to continue forward after something fails is another key trait of innovative technologists.
The Future for These Bright UAT Students
Ke’Ondrae Mell and Garren Koller will soon graduate from UAT with with duel Bachelor of Sciences Degrees in Robotics and Embedded Systems and Digital Maker and Fabrication, along with minors in Artificial Intelligence, Advancing Computer Science and Data Science. Ke’Ondrae is certain about his future, wanting to become an entrepreneur and start his own tech company.
Garren, however, expressed some uncertainty of where he’ll land after graduation, but he has big aspirations as well. He said, “I’m wanting to create and improve medical devices and own my own business in the future. Also, possibly earn a Master of Science degree.” He hopes to be able to work for an employer fresh out of college that will have benefits that support the goal of furthering his education.
Brandon Michelsen is also still a bit uncertain about life after earning his Bachelor of Science in Robotics and Embedded Systems from UAT. “I have two different paths I want to follow. On one hand, I am really interested in STEM education and want to pursue it as a way to inspire others to pursue careers in technology. On the other hand, I also am really interested in aerospace technology, especially the modern space race. I am mostly interested in that career path because rockets are cool.” The majority of The Loomo Project Team is also part of the UAT Space Exploration program that recently developed a flight computer and launched several successful near-space missions.
Dylan Crockett is working toward his Advancing Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence degrees, and potentially earning a third Bachelor of Science in Network Security or possibly a minor or certificate. After his internship on The Loomo Project, he will finish his work on the UAT IoT Smart House production studio and his Student Innovation Project. He then will graduate with a substantial portfolio of his impressive work that he hopes will lead him to a career as a Python developer with focus on web and application back-end development.
Advice from The UAT Loomo Team
Brandon — “Try out learning each of the three subfields of robotics including mechanical, electrical and software, and see which one you enjoy best, if not all three. That way, you’ll have a good idea about what you want to do in the field of robotics after you graduate."
Garren — “Learn how to program, CAD design, and PCB design as soon as possible. Also, learn everything you can about technology in general because it all relates to artificial intelligence and robotics in some way.”
Ke’Ondrae — “Make the most of it, never give up, robots are the greatest machine/friend on earth, and all problems can be solved through them.”
Dylan — “Never stop looking for the solution for a problem. Even if it takes you a long time and might not have the solution you expected, you will still learn more in the process of solving that one problem than trying and failing to solve 5 new ones. Persistence is not only useful when you have an idea or dream you want to follow, but also in pursuit of learning and educating yourself on new things.”
The Loomo Project has come a long way, and each week, there is significant progress in terms of Loomo’s communication and navigation abilities. UAT is proud to have these inspiring student leaders within our university’s community and wishes them the best in their current and future endeavors. You can keep up with the The Loomo Project here, by following UAT on social media or subscribing to our student and UATTech blogs.
The Future of AI, Robotics, Data and Software Development
UAT recently released an analysis of the current state of the job market, citing that careers in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Data Science, Software Engineering and Cyber Security are now at the top of several emerging job reports based on metrics like high-pay, opportunity and growth. These fields are expected to stay at the top of future reports as high-demand fields over the next decade.
You can learn more about UAT’s Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Embedded Systems, Data Science, and Advancing Computer Science undergraduate degrees, as well as our Software Engineering, Technology Leadership, Innovation and other graduate degree options at www.uat.edu/majors.