‘Go Cougs!,’ says Roberto

By Ethan Nash, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture intern

RobotSensorPULLMAN, Wash. – Walk up to Roberto and he blurts out, “Hello! Go Cougs!” Walk away and he waves good-bye. Say, “I love cats,’’ and he breaks into a song – about cats.

Roberto, a 3-foot-tall robot that talks, sings, dances, follows commands and interacts with people, is the work of two teams of electrical engineering and computer engineering students at Washington State University. They hope he’s coming soon to a recruitment fair near you.

Eight students worked to develop Roberto for the past two years as part of their senior design project. While the work enhanced the students’ programming, engineering and computer science skills, it also provided an opportunity for a unique student recruitment tool. For now, the robot’s home is a cluttered room in Sloan Hall, where it is awaiting stardom.

“Some of my friends will walk by the hall and see it, and they will come up to me and ask, ‘Have you seen that awesome robot?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I helped build it,’ ” said Ben Barton, a senior in electrical engineering who worked on Roberto.

The idea for the project came from John Yates, systems and services manager for the WSU Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. He wanted the engineering and computer science students to build something that would get prospective students excited about the field.

Barton, who has been in charge of building Roberto’s physical hardware and executing the math for his software, hopes the robot will inspire first- or second-year students to reach their goals and complete a tough degree when they may be feeling overwhelmed with their introductory classes.

The robot, which has two slender, long arms attached to its body, can listen and respond to basic commands. The user’s motions and voice are picked up by a Microsoft Kinect attached to the body.

Barton hopes future student teams can expand Roberto’s functionality, adding legs and balance so he might walk or claws for opening a door or grabbing something.

In the meantime, the students hope to work with the Voiland College later this year to introduce Roberto to future Cougs at recruitment events.