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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Encouraging the Next Generation of STEM Scientists

Genesis Systems Creates a Maze Machine as a Part of the Putnam Museum’s New Science Center

  • Genesis Systems developed a maze racing robot to encourage visitors at the Putnam Museum to become enthusiastic about STEM fields.

  • InduSoft Web Studio was chosen for this project due to the availability of necessary drivers, ease of development, and educational licenses.

  • The robot developed by Genesis Systems is part of a long-running STEM exhibit that became a part of the museum in April 2014.

Figure 1: Genesis Systems Robot exhibit at the Putnam Museum



According to the United States government, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs are expected to rise 14% between 2010 and 2020. The 2015 Presidential budget allocates $170 million for training the next generation of STEM workers. President Obama’s administration has set a goal of recruiting and training over 100,000 STEM teachers in the next decade, and hopes to graduate an additional 1 million STEM students.

There are, however, challenges to this goal. It is estimated that only 16% of high school seniors are proficient in science and math, and also interested in pursuing a STEM career, and upon graduation, only half of the suitable candidates take a position that requires STEM training. In addition, the workforce is aging rapidly, with an estimated 50% of engineers between the ages of 45 and 64, according to an EMSI study in 2011.

As a result of the drive toward a better educated STEM workforce, many organizations are working hard to improve their involvement in STEM training. One museum, the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, even has a dedicated center for STEM education including hands-on labs and ongoing programs to encourage interest in STEM fields.

As a part of their ongoing efforts, Putnam reached out to Genesis Systems, which designs, builds, and implements  robotic arc welding systems, assembly automation systems and robotic tooling, material handling solutions, non-destructive inspection cells and robotic waterjet cutting systems. They tasked Genesis Systems with designing a robotic exhibit that would encourage visitors to visit the STEM museum to engage with an engineering project and see firsthand what goes into robotic automation.


Figure 2: Schematics for the Genesis Systems robot maze designed for the Putnam Museum.

The Challenge

In the interactive exhibit, visitors to the museum challenge a robotic arm to a puzzle set in a maze. The robot has a magnet on the end of the arm, and pulls a steel ball through the maze with the magnet inside an enclosed area.  On the outside, the visitor has the same maze with a magnetic puck. The robot has four settings with which to compete – a slow, a medium, and a fast setting. In the slow setting, a human can easily win against the machine. In the medium setting, it is a close race between the human and the robot. At the highest setting, the robot will win. A large monitor behind the robot displays robot speed, robot time, visitor speed, visitor time, and the fastest score.

For this exhibit, the Genesis Systems team had to develop an automated robotics project that would withstand heavy use in the museum for a long-run interactive exhibition.  Genesis also had to use a software platform that would allow the creation of appealing graphics for a display of the machine statistics. In addition, the project needed software that could run in a PC environment, so that visitors could interact with the machine using a familiar interface. The project also needed to collect machine data and display it on a large dashboard that can be easily read by visitors to the exhibit.


Figure 3: After the race, the screen behind the machine offers a dashboard with process information, such as maze completion speeds and top scores.

The Solution

The finished exhibit uses an Allen Bradly L1 Series PLC to control the robotic arm built by Genesis Systems. The driver used for communication with the PLC is one of over 200 native drivers included with InduSoft Web Studio.

It took approximately one week to build the machine, and create the HMI for use in the exhibit.  The automation of the robot is controlled by the PLC, with InduSoft Web Studio as the platform for creating an interface to begin and end the process, as well as collect the data gathered in the maze and display it on the digital signage behind the machine.


The Results

While the machine itself may be a simplistic demonstration of an actual plant scenario, there is no better way to introduce young people to the field of engineering and manufacturing. By allowing students and visitors to have a firsthand look at the machinery and software that goes into engineering and technology fields, companies like Genesis Systems can encourage the future candidates for STEM fields to become familiar with the technology. By creating an engaging and transparent experience, students may find that a better understanding of robotics and machine-human interaction make science and technology more attractive as career options.

The machine was delivered to the museum on April 1, 2014, and the grand opening of the STEM section of the Putnam Museum occurred on April 11, 2014. InduSoft provided licenses for this exhibit for Genesis Systems as a part of an ongoing educational program designed to support classrooms and research institutions in STEM training.

The InduSoft educational program includes universities and research facilities worldwide that use InduSoft Web Studio as a part of their operations, or as part of the curriculum offered to give hands-on experience to industrial process and engineering students.

Figure 4: Maze Robot under construction in Genesis Systems facilities.

For more information contact your local distributor or InduSoft directly at info@indusoft.com or 877-INDUSOFT (877-463-8763877-463-8763) or 512-349-0334512-349-0334.

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