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Thinking Outside the Box

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    Sophomore computer science major Amir Hessabi (left) is using technology from the XBOX to create a robot that is capable of mimicking human movements. (Photo by Lucas Adams)

Computer science major uses technology from the Xbox to create a robot that can mimic human movements

Sophomore Amir Hessabi has always had a passion for technology. As a computer science major, staying up to date on new uses and innovations in technology is crucial to maintaining relevance and developing new ideas.

Last summer, Hessabi worked closely with his advisor and computer science professor, Walt Potter, physics professor Steve Alexander, and shop manager Gerry Wade on a robotics research program. Hessabi’s project was inspired by the movie “Real Steel,” an action movie starring Hugh Jackman that is set in the future. One of the robots in the movie has the ability to imitate the movements of humans. 

Over the summer, Hessabi was able to create and program a robotic arm about the size of a human arm with the ability to move. In the fall, the project evolved into an entire robotic body. Hessabi applied for and received a King Creativity Grant to fund the project. After being approved for the grant, Hessabi considered how best to move forward.

“I started using the Xbox Kinect and played around with it a lot,” he said. “I wrote the program so that it would calculate the angles using the data points that the Kinect sensor outputs, then communicate commands to the actual robotic body.”

After working extensively with the Xbox Kinect over winter break, Hessabi decided to incorporate its sensor into his design and began building the rest of the robotic body and the motors. He has been documenting his progress on YouTube and Twitter, and has gained a community of followers, including Southwestern University President Dr. Edward Burger.

In April, Hessabi presented a poster and demonstrated the abilities of his robot, “Bones,” at the 25th annual conference of the South Central Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges hosted at St. Edwards University in Austin. He ended up taking second place for his poster presentation.

“I had no idea there was a poster competition,” Hessabi said. “I just wanted to present my project.”

Microsoft recently selected Hessabi to be one of 500 developers to receive a new Kinect in advance of the official product rollout. He hopes the new Kinect will help him program his robot to move in three dimensions instead of just two.

“This gives us the ability to continue working with more points on the body and recording and analyzing more data,” Hessabi said.

Hessabi will continue working with Alexander on his robotics project this summer as part of the SCOPE program, which is funded by Southwestern and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He recently founded a Robotics Club at Southwestern and hopes to begin competing with other schools and improving his understanding of robotics. Eventually, he hopes to turn “Bones” into his capstone project or an honors thesis.

Daniel Dumitru ’15