Robotics Class

A look into the Wendy & Norris E. Mitchell Robotics Laboratory in Goodwin Hall, which houses a large portion of the mechanical innovation that occurs on Virginia Tech campus, April 11, 2017.

Virginia Tech created a new robotics lab to enhance students’ real-life experiences with robots.

Currently located in Randolph Hall, the robotics lab contains mobile robots and different types of robot manipulator arms that are worth more than $175,000.

Pinhas Ben-Tzvi, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, first pitched the idea of creating the robotics lab. The university acquired the equipment last fall and set up the lab over this winter break.

“This (Robotics theory) is very theoretical, mathematical, very analytical and I figure it's not enough for students to get a good grasp of what robotics is about especially when they continue on to graduate school or go to industry to work,” Ben-Tzvi said. “I figure that it would be a wonderful idea to come up with this robotics lab where students, in additional to seeing the theoretical material, the math and everything, they are actually able to apply those concepts to real robots and interact with real robots to appreciate and understand how these things are done in real life.”

According to a VTNews press release, Ben-Tzvi is currently teaching robotics and automation, specifically, ME 4524 and ECE 4704 for juniors and seniors. Ben-Tzvi claimed that the course is made of two parts: lecture and lab. Students are divided into two groups. One group attends the lecture while the other goes to the lab. The two groups rotate their roles back and forth.

“I feel that nowadays teaching students just the theories is simply not enough. Getting the hands-on experience is extremely important. It doesn't matter where they go, whether they go to graduate school, or go to work right away and then come back to graduate school.”
Pinhas Ben-Tzvi
associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering

“Being able to instill that knowledge or that skill set in students, it's gonna make them so much more better, more marketable, more skilled, more prepared to tackle real problems in real life,” Ben-Tzvi said.

According to Ben-Tzvi, there is a big chance that the university will approve a one credit hour, separately scheduled lab session as a requisite to the main course next semester.

“The plan is effective next year. I submitted a proposal for creating a stand-alone laboratory session which is one credit, and it will be requisite with the course itself,” Ben-Tzvi said. “There is the lecture component and the lab component itself. It's gonna be a separate lab scheduled separately so students have more time to spend in the lab and interact with the robots and even learn more and probably can add more experiments.”

The lab is open to students who are enrolled in the course, and they can work on their projects in the lab whenever they want.

According to Rosaire Bushey, communications and outreach manager in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, there are three rooms in Randolph that will be renovated with the financial support of both the mechanical engineering department and the Provost — 7E, 7F and 7G. In addition, Bushey claimed that there is a big chance that the new space will be ready for students.

The university is currently working on renovating a bigger space for the robotics lab which can accommodate more students and provide more space for the students. After the renovation, students who are taking courses in mechatronics will be able to use the lab as well. 

The new lab will be called "The Teaching Robotics and Mechatronics Lab." According to Ben-Tzvi, the purpose of the robotics lab is for students to be able to interact with real robots as part of the learning process. Students are able to apply theories they learned from the lecture to robots in real life.

“I think we can better educate students. I feel that nowadays teaching students just the theories is simply not enough,” Ben-Tzvi said. “Getting the hands-on experience is extremely important. It doesn't matter where they go, whether they go to graduate school, or go to work right away and then come back to graduate school.”