A Great First Meeting at The Forge

Wednesday, January 20 saw the first full meeting of the Humanoid Robot Project collaboration between IEEE and The Forge Initiative.  It was an exciting night with 23 attendees who were all eager to get involved with building a humanoid robot.  We started with a team building exercise in the hallway where we self-organized into affinity groups according to various questions which helped us to see how different people in the group have different interests and preferences.

Our second agenda topic was an overview of the areas of focus of the project.  The project is being organized around five key areas:  Sculpture, Mechanism, CNS, Intelligence, and Personality.  The areas are all interdependent, but each has its own skill set and objectives.  Sculpture is focused on the outer skin and making a beautiful, human-like appearance.  This will require artistic modeling skill from the sculptors working in this area.  Mechanism is focused on bringing the robot to life by giving it power and movement.  This is the hidden inner structure which makes the robot move in realistic ways.  This will require electro-mechanical design and engineering skill.  CNS is the central nervous system and represents the computer and communication systems required to coordinate and control the robot’s mechanisms and support its software.  This area needs people with computer engineering and networking skills.  Intelligence is the area where the robot’s abilities arise and are integrated through software algorithms.  This is where video becomes vision and audio becomes hearing, where intent becomes motion and a thought becomes a voice.  Programming and algorithm design skill thrives in this area.  The final area, Personality is where all the other areas come together to make a unique robotic individual.  Here is where the social interaction of the robot is sculpted through interaction design, conversation design, and gesture animation.

Following the discussion of the project areas, the students were invited to experience setting up KEN.  With only verbal guidance from KEN’s creators, they set up and plugged in all of KEN’s components and started him running successfully.


We continued the meeting by breaking into affinity groups around the project areas of interest.  Sculpture and Personality went to a separate room to learn more about KEN’s visible and social presence and to brainstorm ideas and enhancements to apply to the next robot to be built.  Mechanism, CNS, and Intelligence stayed with KEN and received in depth, hands-on tutoring on KEN’s neck servo mechanism and software framework.

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Removing KEN’s face to see the underlying structure was a highlight of this activity.  Finally, the teams swapped rooms to give everyone a chance to explore all the project areas.

Everyone expressed on interest in at least one project area, and every project area had multiple people interested.  All in attendance indicated that it was a fun and productive meeting and regretted that we didn’t have time to do even more.

Looking forward to next week…  🙂

Jan 20, 2016 Meet the Robots at NCSU’s D. H. Hill Library

As part of the exhibit titled Life’s Little Dramas: Puppets, Proxies, and Spirits, NCSU Libraries event planners invited Ken Boone of Ken’s Robots and Triangle Amateur Robotics (TAR) fame and the IEEE ENCS Humanoid Robot Project team to present our robots at the D. H. Hill Library in Raleigh, NC, on Wednesday, January 20, at 3:00 pm.  Ken Boone started the show by explaining the history of the TAR club and the Mars Sojourner replica the club built, which has been on display as part of the exhibit.  KEN the humanoid wrapped up the presentation by describing his capabilities to the audience of about 70 people and answering their questions.


Kickoff of 2016 Humanoid Robot Project

KEN donned a pair of safety classes at The Forge Downtown’s Hopewell Academy site for the 2016 kickoff meeting of the IEEE ENCS Humanoid Robot Project and partnership with The Forge Initiative on Wednesday, January 13, 2016.  We discussed our plans to build four new robots this year starting with a copy of KEN.  Ideas were shared about enhancements that we are considering for the V2 design, of which we hope to build three copies by year end.  Some ideas being considered are articulated eyes and blinking eyelids, a soft chest with breathing motion, articulated arms for gesturing and pointing, improved hearing and conversation handling, improved face and object recognition, and customizable personality.

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Students will play a key role in building the new robots.  Our new meeting schedule is weekly on Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30 pm.   The first half hour is for the adult mentors to meet and plan with student build activities beginning at 7 pm.

Local Partnership Wins IEEE Foundation Grant to Support STEM Education

For nearly a century, science fiction writers have imagined a future in which robots, indistinguishable from humans, interact and function in normal human societies.

Students from The Forge Initiative interact with KEN during an outreach event.  Photo courtesy of Grayson Randall.
Students from The Forge Initiative interact with KEN during an outreach event. Photo courtesy of Grayson Randall.

For thousands of students across North Carolina, that future is now. The Eastern North Carolina Section of the IEEE has been awarded an IEEE Foundation Grant to advance STEM Education through the use of humanoid robotics. The grant, titled “STEM Outreach Using Student-Built Humanoid Robots,” will help fund a year-long mentoring and outreach program designed to bring cutting-edge robotics technologies to students and families across North Carolina. 

Funding from the grant will support a partnership between the Eastern North Carolina Section of the IEEE and The Forge Initiative, a STEM education nonprofit based out of Cary, North Carolina. Volunteer mentors from the two organizations will work with middle and high school students to assemble and customize humanoid robots based on an existing prototype. Students will also learn to present the robots at STEM outreach events across North Carolina, providing opportunities for at least 4,000 people to interact with the robots.

The existing prototype, nicknamed Ken, was developed by the Eastern North Carolina Section Robotics and Automation chapter as part of a challenge to build a robot “indistinguishable from a human.” Ken made his official debut in March 2015 at the IEEE North Carolina RoboResearch Seminar, and has been delighting adults and children alike ever since. According to Project Director Grayson Randall, “It is wonderful to see how excited students get when engaged in spontaneous natural-language discussion with a robot.  You can see their interest growing with every word.  We hoped to expand this program dramatically to encourage more interest in STEM careers.  We just needed the perfect partner.”

The Forge Initiative is that partner. Linda Whipker, President of The Forge Initiative, stated, “Our mission is to focus on youth development and leadership through hands-on STE(Art)M education and community engagement. Working with the IEEE will allow us to add another dimension to our offerings.” Together, the IEEE and The Forge Initiative will help the future engineers of North Carolina bring about the future of robotics.

About the IEEE Foundation

As the philanthropic arm of IEEE, the IEEE Foundation inspires the generosity of donors so it may enable IEEE programs that enhance technology access, literacy and education, as well as support the IEEE professional community.

The IEEE Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization in the United States, fulfills its purpose by soliciting and managing donations, recognizing the generosity of our donors, awarding grants to IEEE grassroots projects of strategic importance, supporting high impact Signature Programs, serving as a steward of donations that empower bright minds, recognize innovation and preserve the history of technology. With donor support, the IEEE Foundation strives to be a leader in transforming lives through the power of technology and education.