Senator Jay Rockefeller visited the Center for Applied Research and Technology, Inc. (CART) at Bluefield State College (BSC) in Bluefield, West Virginia on Saturday, February 26 to lead a roundtable discussion on the importance of robotics for technology-based economic development. Jamie Gaucher from the West Virginia Development Office co-facilitated the meeting with Bruce Mutter, CART, Inc., CEO.
BSC Electrical Engineering Technology Professor Bob Riggins and his student-led Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) student robotics team briefly demonstrated the capabilities of this year’s IGVC robot called “Archon” to the Senator as he asked questions and talked with the student team.
Following the IGVC team demonstration, Bruce Mutter provided a brief overview of IGVC and Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge competition entries over a several year span and CART’s current collaborations with industry involving automation, rapid prototyping, programming, monitoring, scanning, and web applications including work with Fenner Dunlop Americas (F-D) Conveyor Diagnostics in Bluefield, Virginia.
Mark Myers, Director of Systems Software and Scanning Services, Fenner Dunlop Americas, then presented an intelligent belt conveyor monitoring system called Eagle Eye developed at F-D’s Bluefield operations. Myers discussed the application of the system with the Senator and explained the role of CART and its applied research assistantship program students in support of this technology’s development.
Thomas Evans, Program Manager for the WVU-NASA Robotic Arm Program presented an overview of the Center for the Robotic Servicing of Orbital Space Assets, located at the West Virginia High Tech Consortium in Fairmont, which has been established by WVU as part of a cooperative partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Todd Ensign, a Program Manager of the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Center, also located in Fairmont, described the value of innovative educator resources for teaching science and mathematics to future robotics engineers. Christina Moats, from the IV&V Strategic Communications Office explained the program's primary business focus is to support NASA by performing software engineering research, empirically based software measurement, IV&V, and independent assessments for determining software risk and criticality.
Anne Barth, Executive Director for Tech Connect West Virginia and former State Director for Senator Robert C. Byrd, discussed the role of the coalition’s professionals and their dedication to the growth and diversification of the State’s economy through advancing technology-based economic development.
Tom Minnich, Director of Business and Project Development for the Robert C. Byrd Institute of Advanced Flexible Manufacturing, explained that during today’s meeting he had been made aware of the extent and depth of the robotics-related capabilities in Bluefield and thinks that collaborative projects could arise from it. Ron Basini, CEO of the West Virginia Angel Network added that while he was aware of CART and BSC’s capabilities that we needed to focus investment on these early-stage technology developments that hold the most promise of obtaining a positive economic return. He also concluded that collaboration was indeed possible and expected as a result of this robotics roundtable.
The Senator asked each Bluefield State student participating in the roundtable if he was getting the background needed to compete in the professions of engineering technology and computers science. Senior engineering technology and computer science students Matthew Adkins, Robbie Martin, and Mike Sumrall each responded with confidence that they were prepared and excited to begin careers and that real world applied research projects and competitions had greatly helped hone their professional skills.
BSC Electrical Engineering Technology Professor Roy Pruett, thanked the Senator for supporting Math-Counts, a national math coaching and competition program for middle school students and reiterated the importance of developing geometry and algebra skills in sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Noting that, if we expected students to later excel in the development of automation technologies and rewarding careers, then we need to do everything we can to reinforce the continual improvement of their math skills during these formative years.
Jack Howard, Owner of Nexus Terra, LLC and developer of spatial positioning systems and remote data collection devices and services agreed with the importance of developing technical skills. He added that overall it is very important that young students work on real-life projects that connect them with the real world. He thinks this develops their confidence in solving more complex interdisciplinary projects, such as required for robotics and automation.
Dr. Robin Ware, BSC Provost and Vice President for Student Affairs thanked Senator Rockefeller for leading the Robotics Roundtable to BSC, and ensured the Senator and the participants that the College would follow up on the initiatives discussed today.
Senator Rockefeller concluded, “I am focused on finding ways to create jobs right here in West Virginia. In order for our country to maintain its competitive edge, we must make sure that our students and workers have the high-tech training needed for the jobs of today and the jobs of the future.” The Senator added, “Bluefield State students are learning invaluable skills with CART programs and in the high-tech field of robotics that they can take into the workforce – and as we rebuild our economy and boost our manufacturing sector this is such a great thing. Just as computers and the Internet have transformed the way we communicate with one another, the field of robotics is transforming the way we make products and deliver services, so it is in West Virginia’s best interest to have the skilled workforce that knows and understands this field.”
CART: ingenuity to industry
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