Proto Labs’ Latest Cool Idea! is a Rice University Robotics Project

Proto Labs, a leading online and technology-enabled manufacturer of quick-turn prototype and short-run parts, has announced the second recipient of its Cool Idea! Award Program. Rice University has been awarded prototyping and production services to help launch a group of robots designed for undergraduate engineering students.

The robots, dubbed “r-one,” were developed by Professor James McLurkin and his students and will give students the opportunity to research multi-robot engineering systems at a low cost. R-one robots have the ability to communicate with the user and with one another using an internal computer, motors, lights and sounds.

“What’s cooler than a group of robots communicating with people and each other?” said Proto Labs founder and CTO Larry Lukis. “The robots get students excited about engineering and improve their ability to comprehend basic engineering concepts at the same time. Fun and innovation – that’s what the Cool Idea! program is all about.”

McLurkin had been using the same group of robots in his classroom for nearly 8 years. His students were in dire need of replacements, but the cost was prohibitive. He decided to develop his own models with a lower-cost design. The robots can be programmed to accommodate different levels of learning. McLurkin hopes the robots will soon become as common as the scientific calculator for college students and LEGO® Mindstorms for K-12 students.

“I plan to open-source the design so that other schools and researchers can work with it and adapt it to their needs,” said McLurkin. “My overall goal is to increase engineering literacy by presenting a broad, interesting, and relevant introduction to engineering disciplines. The Firstcut and Protomold services are game-changing technologies for academic instruction and student prototyping, one of the reasons I know this is true is that these robots have been a huge hit in my classroom!”

The Cool Idea! Award Program is a new program offered by Proto Labs that is designed to give product designers the opportunity to bring innovative products to life. McLurkin is the second recipient, with additional recipients to be named. Throughout the course of 2011, Proto Labs will provide an aggregate of up to $100,000 worth of prototyping and short-run production services to award recipients.

For more information, visit: www.protolabs.com/coolidea

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