Artificial intelligence (or “A.I.”) and Big Data are widely predicted to create a Fourth Industrial Revolution that many say is now underway, with the power to change how we live and work. Thanks in part to a Faculty Innovation Grant that supported the procurement of cutting-edge A.I. robots, students taking “Deep Learning and Robotics” (ISA ST401) with Associate Professor of Information Systems and Analytics Chen Zhang, Ph.D., will be prepared to help lead and shape this future.
Deep learning is a powerful machine learning technique, promising to escalate the advances of artificial intelligence to another level.
Today, deep learning applications in robotics is in a state of enormous growth, says Zhang, a cloud computing expert who designed the course and proposed the purchase of the robots, TurtleBot3 and SoftBank Robotics humanoid NAO in his appeal for the Innovation Grant he was awarded for the course, which launched Fall 2020. Pepper, a SoftBank Robotics humanoid acquired by Bryant Information Services and funded by the Chaplin Fund, is also featured in the course.
“This subject is not only super interesting, but very important to the technology world today.”
The idea behind the course, and his purpose for the grant, is to help Bryant students be part of this trend by preparing them to create new applications for the technology. It’s one way he's contributing to an ongoing Bryant initiative to prep students for a future driven by A.I.
In addition, Chen believes that the students' experiences with the new technology in the course, along with what they learn in their liberal arts courses, will benefit their personal competency, future employers, and society, aligning with the intentions of the Faculty Innovation Grants, which are to support academic growth through new teaching and learning strategies.
Learning programming language with top technology
“This is a very experiential course,” says Chen. Using popular deep learning programming tools, and after practicing on simulation systems, the students will be able to program the physical robots, a unique hands-on opportunity that has drawn students to the course – and for good reason.
"What excites me about the course is being able to create, control and even talk to robots.”
Turtlebot3 offers the opportunity to interact with LIDAR, the technology behind autonomous car navigation. NAO is a humanoid robot, or social robot. Designed to interact with people, NAO can be integrated with IBM Watson, a market leader in natural language processing power along with Dialogflow and Amazon Alexa.
“This subject is not only super interesting, but very important to the technology world today. I would highly recommend this class to anyone who is interested in any of these things,” says Lauren Canning ’21, an Information Systems and Analytics major.
“We are able to interact in real time with robots, which is something that not a lot of people ever get the opportunity to do,” says Nicholas Vencile ’20, an Information Systems major. “What excites me about the course is being able to create, control and even talk to robots, which is a very fascinating and positive experience.”
Along the way, the students expand their knowledge of advanced tools:
- Open-source packages of Robotic Operating System, Google Tensorflow, and Keras
- Humanoid robot operating system and IDE
- Choregraphe and Gazebo simulations
- Python, a programming language with a top deep learning library
“In recent years, there have been huge investments from governments, research institutes, and universities” in deep learning and robotics, “and a huge amount of publications and papers are showing up in conferences and journals,” Zhang said. “It is truly experiencing a big boost.”
As a result of exposure to the technology in the course, “students will be more competitive in the job market because they will be more innovative in whatever role they’re playing in their future career,” says Chen, “and that is a key differentiator. The key skill in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to be innovative in the ways that are going to apply those cutting-edge technologies.”
This story is already playing out, says Chen, as demand for the skills is strong and growing – not just in industrial automation (such as supply chain robots, autonomous cars, and drones) but to humanoid applications in service industrial sector such as banks and hospitals, and to deep business analytics and analysis models. “The job outlook looks great,” said Chen.