An inside look: Undergraduate research with the Animal Inspired Motion and Robotics Lab | Paul M. Rady Mechanical Engineering

Riley McGill is a sophomore in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She is conducting undergraduate research in Professor Kaushik Jayaram’s Animal Inspired Motion and Robotics Lab (AIMRL).

Riley McGill, mechanical engineering sophomore

I had the opportunity to work in the Animal Inspired Motion and Robotics Lab (AIMRL) this year through the Uplift Program. In the AIMRL, we are studying cockroaches and spiders to design a robot that mimics their movements and the robustness of their bodies. During my time there, I have been helping build a palm-sized, six-legged robot. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the people I get to work with every week.

Fall semester was a shadowing period, and I was lucky enough to help and gain hands-on experience. I learned the most during this period as I was being taught to operate prototyping machinery. While my focus has been on the building and designing process for the legs and body of the cardboard robots, I have also learned a lot about other projects in the lab related to things like electronics, kinematics and electroadhesion.

The skills that I learned during this time are extremely important and will have the most impact in the long run. Although they may seem like simple tasks, operating the laser cutter, heat press, drill press, soldering iron and other machinery was an extremely important part of my time in the lab. Not only have these skills allowed me to contribute to building the robots, they will also allow me to succeed in any engineering position I acquire.

I have learned a lot about electronics and coding as well. The robot’s legs are powered by motors, with the speed and direction controlled using an app and a bluetooth connection. Because my focus has been on the mechanics and structure of the robot, I have not often work on the electronics. However, I have still learned a lot about Arduino coding language and circuit boards compatible with Arduino. There were many trials and errors when trying to construct the code properly, so I also got to experience that aspect of engineering design.

Prototype robot
Prototype of the six-legged robot.

I am still working on this project and continue to learn more about robotics, design, electronics and the engineering process every time I work. The overall experience of this project and working in a research lab has been very exciting and rewarding. I have learned so much about engineering that I have not learned in a classroom because I am gaining hands-on experience.

My advice for any student interested in research is to just try it. I would also encourage any student who is unsure what kind of job they want to pursue after college to get involved with research. It is difficult to know exactly what you want to do when most classes during the first 2-3 years of college are conceptual and equation driven. Research has been extremely helpful in teaching me how to apply what I am learning and what kind of fields I can pursue with a mechanical engineering degree.

Watch videos from the Animal Inspired Motion and Robotics Lab

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