Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Local partnership gives students hands-on robotics experience

9th grade student Alex Lieberman and Evan Heck program the robot.
9th grade student Alex Lieberman and Evan Heck program the robot.
Photo by Ian Swaby
  • Sarasota
  • Neighbors
  • Share

Alex Lieberman put a robot to work on July 20 at the Suncoast Science Center Faulhaber Fab Lab.

Lieberman, who is entering ninth grade, 3D-printed a squeegee and attached it to the mechanical arm on loan from RND Automation, assigning the robot a glass cleaning ability.

“We just kind of made it up,” Lieberman said of the idea.

The robot is only the beginning of a partnership — and the creative potential — between Fab Lab and RND Automation. Fab Lab is a local nonprofit that promotes science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) education. RND Automation is Florida’s largest custom robotics, packaging and assembly machinery manufacturer.

The collaboration is designed to increase the range of careers students can be exposed to and the depth of knowledge they can gain at the lab.

Students at Fab Lab’s Machine Madness summer camp have learned to program the arm, but it also helps high school volunteers learn how to realize and supervise high-tech projects through the lab’s BUILD (Building Unique and Innovative Lab Designs) program. 

There is a rich potential for these types of robots, known as collaborative robots, which share a workspace with humans, said Aaron Laine, key account sales engineer and former vice president of operations for RND Automation.

Adam Willea, district manager for FANUC, explains robotics to 11th grade volunteer Daniel Desear and 9th grade students Evan Heck and Alex Lieberman.
Photo by Ian Swaby

“The sky’s the limit, really,” he said.

Collaborative robots are relevant in fields that include engineering, science, chemistry and media, said Jenn Scott, communications director for Fab Lab. Other careers to which they apply include controls engineering, electrical engineering and mechatronics — or mechanics and electronics — said Adam Willea, a district manager for FANUC, which designed the robot.

“A fun game to play is look around and see what was built by a robot, namely, your iPhone,” he said. Other items FANUC robots design include shoes and makeup palettes.

At RND Automation, the robotic arm is applied to needs like distribution, packaging, palletizing and sorting, as well as manufacturing needs like cutting, welding, screw driving, drilling and deburring. 

BUILD volunteers spent 15 hours learning how to program the arm, creating custom tool heads using the lab’s equipment such as its 3D printer, laser cutter, vacuum former, and router. Among the other tools with which the arm was fitted were a pencil sharpener and a fork. Students also learn to program the robot's movements.

The lending of the robot represents just the beginning of the partnership, however. In the future, the collaboration will allow students to work on real-world automation projects and benefit from active engagement with RND Automation’s experts. Last week, Fab Lab students toured the RND facility, where they were exposed to similar technology, in an offering which is planned to be repeated.

“I would say it expanded my interest,” said Lieberman of the robot. “I was never really interested in robots before, but now I am interested.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

Latest News