Dancing Robots and More at NYU Poly Student Expo

May 5, 2014 Updated: May 5, 2014

NEW YORK—A bustling white tent was set up at New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering on Friday, May 2. Just past the complimentary coffee and light lunch, students and faculty mingled with the public, showing off students’ latest research projects.

Computer screens dotted the tent, lit with brightly-colored models and diagrams. On one end of the crowded tent, in a children’s pool full of water, two robotic fish lazily swam around each other. Further down the center row, graduate student Craig Zhang demonstrated his dancing robot.

The robot stood under a foot tall, a battery pack attached to its back. It walked forward, then back, rocking its frame to the rhythm of music playing from a laptop. Multicolored lights flashed on and off.

Mr. Zhang is originally from Chengdu, China. He said he enjoyed being able to independently design and build his own project for this kind of event. He didn’t have that kind of opportunity in China.

Another team of Taiwanese students invented a very practical computer program to help people choose the correct size of clothing while shopping online. After placing a standard-sized music CD in front of a person and taking a photo, the program can instantly measure a person’s dimensions and recommend a certain clothing size.

Other university students demonstrated the results of special elementary and high school programs. Through events such as contests and summer camps, the younger children are inspired and guided to use their creativity to complete a project.

Graduate student James Cox introduced visitors to a large robot made by high school students for a contest called First Tech Challenge. The students were required to make a robot that would perform certain tasks such as picking up small objects within a group game setting.

“It’s sort of nice I think to show the students how you can take the math and have it apply to actual real world applications. I think there’s sometimes a disconnect there, and the students can’t quite see that,” said Cox.

One of the event organizers, Vikram Kapila, said events like these help students learn to communicate with lay people about their work.

“By coming to a research expo, they are learning how to talk to public audiences, lay audiences who are not specialists, who don’t know their technical jargon,” said Mr. Kapila. “So this is giving them exposure to have a broader impact for their research as well.”

Mr. Kapila said much of the lab research at the school is funded by government, corporations and philanthropic groups. Through practice, the students improve their ability to explain complex technology to representatives of such organizations and increase the likelihood of obtaining funding for future projects or advancing their career.

This was just the second annual NYU Poly Research Expo, held at Brooklyn Tech Triangle’s MetroTech Plaza, also known as Innovation Square. The event showcased many other projects from intelligent transport systems, to 3D character animation, to door-opening smartphones, demonstrating the latest research in science and technology.

Sarah Le is a special correspondent in New York.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @dadasarahle