This symbiosis of applied math and engineering has already had impact on a vital area, the robotic search for mines, where as recently as 1994, 100,000 landmines were removed while 2.5 million were placed. Having robots search for landmines will immediately minimize the danger and cost of de-mining. Professor Choset's work in de-mining genuinely promotes engineering advancement and emphasizes the mathematical principles of Computer Science and Engineering. His group has developed provable techniques for coverage path planning, a method that determines a path for a robot to follow such that the robot passes over every point in the environment. The mathematical guarantee is critical in mine-sweeping where missing one mine makes the mission a failure. As a result of his success with these techniques, Professor Choset was invited by the Mine Warfare Technology team to speak about future directions for de-mining research. In 1999, the Office of Naval Research awarded professor Choset its Young Investigator Program award to further this work. Recently, Professor Choset visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to gain a first-hand view of a real minefield. In collaboration with Dr. Rizzi at Carnegie Mellon, Professor Choset applied similar coverage technology to the application of auto-body painting with the Ford Motor Company to expedite the paint operation while minimizing hazardous waste. This coverage technology will be used in providing software tools to guide a surgeon milling bone with a minimally invasive device.
Professor Choset's work also considers highly articulated mechanisms; one such device is called a hyper-redundant robot. These robots are ideally suited for urban search and rescue because they can exploit their unique snake-like geometry and internal degrees of freedom to thread through tightly packed volumes and access locations that conventional machinery and people cannot. Controlling these devices is quite challenging; raw engineering intuition alone will not suffice. In addition to mechanism design, Professor Choset's work develops rigorous fundamental theory to coordinate the internal degrees of freedom of the device to produce purposeful motion. This work combines homotopy and Morse theory to define retract-like structures in unknown multi-dimensional spaces. In collaboration with Professor Messner at Carnegie Mellon, Professor Choset also works with actuator arrays, a highly articulated system used for material transport. He published a book on this topic with Professor Bohringer at the University of Washington. The underlying mathematical principals and design philosophies are now being applied to surgical medical robotic tools in the proposed effort
The philosophy of using construction and implementation to reinforce theory permeates Professor Choset's courses. In Professor Choset's undergraduate robotics course, students use LEGO robotics labs, developed by Professor Choset and his students, to reinforce the rigorous and theoretical materials presented in class (http://generalrobotics.org). Every two weeks, lecture material covers the underlying mathematics and algorithms and via construction of a programmable three-dimensional artifact, the lab experiences seriously motivate students to synthesize lessons, critically explore beyond them, and then think creatively with meta-lessons. Professor Choset termed this style of education as directed constructionism because it strikes a balance between conventional on-way lectures and modern constructionist approaches.
However, Professor Choset's long-term education goal is to bring this directed constructionist philosophy to the primary school levels. Robotics is a powerful vehicle to inspire and teach. Based on volunteer work with robotics contests FIRST and Botball, Professor Choset and his students have seen that robotics is an educational tool that dramatically elevates children's, interest in sciences and mathematics. A robot is a hook that induces curiosity and excitement. Once they see a robot in motion, both boys and girls, want to build their own robot. To do so, they must understand mathematics, science, and technology. The benefits of robotics in education, however, go well beyond the technical skills. These project-based experiences allow students to develop team building and inter-personal skills that jobs of the 21st Century will demand.