Emely Bonilla| The Poly Post

CPP computer science develops new programs for robot, SPOT

By Emely Bonilla, April 25, 2023

Every Thursday around 4 p.m. in front of Building 8 a small group of students can be seen working with a vibrant yellow dog. The dog trots around collecting Pepsi cans around the campus, but the closer you look the realization hits that it is a robot dog. The group working with SPOT, the robot dog, are a few members of computer science Department Chair Daisy Tang’s undergraduate researchers.

Throughout the spring semester a few groups of computer science student-researchers are working under computer science Department Chair Daisy Tang to create innovative technology through a robot dog named SPOT. 

These students are spending their time working on a robot created by Boston Dynamics as a foundation for their research.  This project is divided into three separate work groups that target three distinct functions the robot has to offer — hardware development, object detection and image recognition. 

Mark Haddad, a computer science student, shared how this opportunity allowed him to network with other computer science students and grow his own skills at a steady pace. 

“(The research team) all joined the project at the same time, this lets us form groups based on what we found interesting,” said Haddad. “Overtime we were able to work out what we wanted to do and get started.” 

Using a robot that already has preexisting software and mechanical functions allows these teams to be able to establish a foundation they understand and can constantly refer to. The three groups work toward their group goals by either adding on top of what has been previously established by Boston Dynamics or by reworking programs. 

Lina Kang, a computer science student, is a member of group two which is working towards creating a program that will allow SPOT to act as a “trash dog.” By implementing both objection detection and image recognition, group two is writing code that will command SPOT to recognize and throw away a Pepsi can.

Emely Bonilla | The Poly Post

“(Each member of group two) have been through probably 300 images and then boxing out and annotating the Pepsi can,” said Kang. “We are trying to make sure SPOT can recognize a certain object just based on what it sees through its camera. We have been training the dog to recognize this can, so that when the dog is actually outside, it can perform the action we set for it.”

George Matta, a computer science student, reveals how the research is being conducted may seem like simple goals and accomplishments, but that is not the case.

“This is a lot like how evolution works. We get an output and from there we rate it, see how good it is,” said Matta. “This can create a whole population of different outputs by taking the best output of the new population and having them act as a parent. This is like stonework. We’re bringing in all this experience as undergraduates into the workforce once we graduate with this state-of-the-art technology.”

Though these teams are in the preliminary stages of this research, the students hope their work can lead to technology that could help the campus, the community and other computer science students. 

Small research opportunities such as SPOT can be found all throughout campus and provide students with the foundational tools needed to be successful in competitive work fields. In fields such as computer science where there are many different possibilities for post-graduate jobs in various areas, research experience is essential.

As a student in their last semester, Kang has participated in three different projects, ranging from aerospace to SPOT. These differing roles have led Kang to understand what is liked and disliked in the world of computer science. 

“I think that these opportunities are definitely beneficial, and I think every student should take advantage of these programs if they have the time,” said Kang. “If you’re not really sure where you want to go, I feel these opportunities are a good way for you to figure out before getting into the workforce.”

Feature image by Emely Bonilla

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