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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Draper Engineering Interns Build a Robot that Can Climb Glass

Students Race to Deliver Workable Robot in Weeks

CAMBRIDGE, MA—For many aspiring engineers, a summer internship means spending the days in an assistant’s role, supporting the projects of established engineers. Draper takes a different approach to the internship experience, giving students their own project and trusting them to take it from concept to completion. This summer, a team of six undergraduate students and one graduate student brought a robot to life that can climb vertical glass surfaces and deploy wireless sensor nodes as it goes. The students were challenged to manage the project just as professional engineers. The project provided them an opportunity to experience a large portion of the product development process—define requirements and develop a concept of operations, hold preliminary and critical design reviews, manage customer expectations, manage financials and ultimately deliver a functional prototype in 10 weeks.

Draper funded the student project and provided access to Draper’s facilities and expert technical staff as part of its commitment to the advancement of education. The team’s advisor, Corey Juarez, a mechanical engineer in Draper’s Electronics and Systems Packaging group, designed the internship to allow students to work collaboratively with a small team and gain hands-on, applicable real world experience and complete ownership of their work. But he also sees value for his company. “R&D companies like Draper have a huge role to play in encouraging and helping young people to choose engineering careers. By giving summer interns responsibility for a real project from start to finish, we are growing the next generation of talent.”

Calling their project Quarter-Inch, the Draper-sponsored students designed a mobile robot capable of climbing a glass surface. To do this, the students developed and managed a project plan that included a budget for labor, materials, modeling and simulation, design reviews and demonstrations. Using modularity as a design strategy, the team built, tested, refined and demonstrated a mobile robot—and overcame a number of obstacles, such as foot compliance and body rigidity, timing and foot actuation sequences and displacement from the wall. One of the requirements imposed on the students was to leverage Draper’s MicroHold technology, a material that clings to smooth, nonporous surfaces like glass or metal by applying a technique inspired by one of nature’s greatest climbers: the gecko.

A win-win for students and employers alike, this kind of experiential learning addresses a gap in skills pervasive among new hires in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industries. “Giving students control over their own projects is critical to preparing them for a career in engineering” says Sheila Hemami, Director of Strategic Technical Opportunities at Draper. “Students get an advantage in the competitive job market by developing valuable project management skills they can’t learn from a textbook. Draper’s vision is to fund multiple multidisciplinary projects each summer, and we have the support of management in terms of resources and financial commitment to do that.” 

In a survey at the conclusion of the program, one student described the internship as “a comprehensive experience that taught real-life engineering skills.” Another said “the design and building of this robot gave true insight to the R&D mindset that Draper is known for, as well as the realistic practice of working in a group.” Throughout the internship, the students engaged with a variety of staff members and services at Draper—including the Center for Additive Manufacturing, the Machine Shop and the Procurement Office—and built motors, actuators, rapid prototypes, software code, mechanical designs and electromechanical integration.

Joining Juarez as students advisors were Chad Gibson, a Group Leader in Draper’s Electronics and Systems Packaging group, and William McFarland, leader of the Delivery Systems group at Draper.

Draper’s summer interns responsible for Quarter-Inch include Laura Anhalt, Boston University, Mechanical Engineering program; Justin DiPlacido, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Electrical Engineering program; Ian McGinty, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mechanical Engineering program; Nicholas Robinson, Northeastern University, Mechatronics master’s program; Serena Russell, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mechanical Engineering program; Mallory Whalen, M.I.T., Mechanical Engineering program; and Tim Zhang, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Electrical Engineering program.

Last year, Draper’s summer interns designed and built a human-powered flying machine in the form of a dragon inspired by Game of Thrones.

Draper’s summer interns built a robot that can climb a glass wall. Mobile robots can be deployed in fields like logistics, energy and manufacturing to access remote locations too dangerous for humans.
Capabilities Used
Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.


Draper has designed and developed microelectronic components and systems going back to the mid-1980s. Our integrated, ultra-high density (iUHD) modules of heterogeneous components feature system functionality in the smallest form factor possible through integration of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology with Draper-developed custom packaging and interconnect technology. Draper continues to pioneer custom Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and custom radio frequency components for both commercial (microfluidic platforms organ assist, drug development, etc.) and government (miniaturized data collection, new sensors, Micro-sats, etc.) applications.  Draper features a complete in-house iUHD and MEMS fabrication capability and has existing relationships with many other MEMS and microelectronics fabrication facilities. 

Image & Data Analytics

Draper combines specific domain expertise and knowledge of how to apply the latest analytics techniques to extract meaningful information from raw data to better understand complex, dynamic processes. Our system design approach encompasses effective organization and processing of large data sets, automated analysis using algorithms and exploitation of results. To facilitate user interaction with these processed data sets, Draper applies advanced techniques to automate understanding and correlation of patterns in the data. Draper’s expertise encompasses machine learning (including deep learning), information fusion from diverse and heterogeneous data sources, optimized coupling of data acquisition and analysis and novel methods for analysis of imagery and video data.

Materials Engineering & Microfabrication

Draper continues to develop its expertise in designing, characterizing and processing materials at the macro-, micro- and nanoscales. Understanding the physical properties and behaviors of materials at these various scales is vital to exploit them successfully in designing components or systems. This enables the development and integration of biomaterials, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, wafer fabrication, chemical and electrochemical materials and structural materials for application to system-level solutions required of government and commercial sponsors.

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