U. Florida Students Build Obama-campaiging Robot

This story was written by David Cumming, Independent Florida Alligator


It crawled down the Turlington Plaza pavement Tuesday afternoon, clenching its iron fists and beaming its blue eyes at everyone in its path.

ObamaBot, a nearly 6-foot-tall, student-made robot, drew a crowd of followers in its wake like a marching band conductor on wheels, waving its android arms with Barack Obama campaign posters from side to side in response to the remote control held by one of its creators.

This is the first phase in demonstration robots, said Bryan Hood, an electrical and mechanical engineering junior, who thought of the project a month ago. The long-run goal is to have robotic marches on Washington, Hood said.

ObamaBots campaign attack was kept secret until its strike at Michelle Obamas downtown rally Oct. 22. The robot has made campus appearances since Thursday.

Were trying to get people aware of the early voting and get people to vote who wouldnt have voted otherwise, Hood said.

Camilo Buscaron, a UF sophomore, and Andres Vargas, a mechanical engineering graduate student, worked with Hood during their machine intelligence lab behind closed doors. Even their lab professor didnt know what they were building.

Obamas message is important to us, and the way we went about it through robotics was something we all could relate to, Buscaron said.

The machine is the result of two weeks of construction and $250 of their own funds. After three all-nighters during the final stages of assembly, ObamaBot could blink its eyes, move its arms and roll and rotate 360 degrees at 4 mph.

Rather than holding up a sign saying "vote early," we built something that we all could enjoy and that represents our political beliefs, Vargas said.

Its anatomy, which consists of remote-control motors, batteries and transmitter receivers, came from the students spare parts collection, Vargas said. We wanted to make it flashy, yet simple, he said.

Other purchased pieces include an LCD screen, light-up eyes and an outer wood skeleton masked by shiny metallic paint. It was a robot on a budget, Buscaron said.

ObamaBots campus debut was met with stares from some students and cell-phone cameras from others.

It at least gets people talking about the election, said Daron Williams, a coordinator for Florida PIRG New Voters Project, who was on Turlington Plaza telling students about early voting.

Two-year-old Safya Burke, of Tampa, approached the robot, which stood almost four times her size, without hesitation Thursday. She reached out her hand, touching its shiny surface, and quickly retracted in laughter.

The next phase in Obatics is to create a more lifelike face than the current bright orange Styrofoam head and add voice activation that would utter Obamas campaign slogans to passersby, Hood said.

We all know that robots represent change and the future, he said. Potentially, we can have a lot of them, much more so than ourselves. Maybe in another four years, well deploy a bunch of these and campaign everywhere.
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