DOWNERS GROVE – Science fiction has inspired plenty of real-life inventions, from the submarine to the cellphone.
For Downers Grove South High School student Nathan Gresik, the mechanical exoskeleton that gives Tony Stark his powers in “Iron Man” has always been one of his inspirations. And eventually, he’d like to work on engineering-powered exoskeletons.
“NASA even has some stuff with those powered exoskeletons,” said Gresik, who lives in Bolingbrook. “I think that’s really interesting. It can be used for police work, or sea exploration or space exploration.”
For now, he and fellow 12th-grader Rob Quinn of Downers Grove have started the Robotics Club at South High School, guiding about 20 other students through the world of building and designing small robots. The group started this year, and meets once a week.
Gresik and Quinn divided the club into small teams based on experience level. The beginners worked on a Lego platform, building a small rover with front-bumper sensors. It can drive around a room, and if it runs into a wall or other object, the sensors tell it to turn around and drive away.
The intermediate group is working on a metal, four-wheeled “clawbot.” The claw can grab and carry items, and future sensors might include sonar, among others, so it can sense and find objects to pick up.
The most advanced group uses a computer processor brand named Arduino as the starting point.
“It’s a little bit more advanced because it doesn’t really come with instructions,” Gresik said. “You just buy parts from RadioShack and stores like that, and you use Arduino for the processor. It’s kind of free form and that’s why it’s advanced. It’s a little bit more challenging.”
For the club’s first Arduino project, they found a kit that will help them build a six-legged robot that resembles an insect.
“It has 18 motors, there’s a few on each leg to drive it,” Quinn said. “So it has realistic leg movements. It also has one of those sonar sensors. It would also be able to walk around the room. And if it sees an obstacle or something, it could turn around. Or, maybe, if it notices someone it could, like, wave at them.”
Eventually, the club hopes to compete in competitions, designing robots programmed to complete autonomous tasks, or complete obstacle courses.
Rob shares Nathan’s interest in sci-fi and started building the Lego robots as a kid. He is also a computer programmer and has written apps for iPhone, he said, skills that come in handy with robotics.
“If I was a freshman now, I would have wanted there to a be a Robotics Club,” he said. “Just because I would think it’s interesting. Now we have that for other people, and I think that’s really cool.”