Summer 2023 Updates from the Director

As we approach the end of summer, we are proud to highlight MnRI’s free summer Tech Camps for middle schoolers. In late June, we hosted 20 youths sponsored by the Minnesota African Women’s Association (MAWA). UMN scholars ran activities where participants soldered robot bugs, worked with programs like Ozobots and Sparkfun, made laser-cut designs, and learned more about robots. At the end of the camp, students gave presentations on what they learned from and liked about the program. 

Special thanks to Travis Henderson, Corey Knutson, Helenrose Jorgensen, Samuel Martin, Nicholas Padilla, Noe Bazan, Adam Imdieke, Robert Hairston, and Nicole Kennedy, who worked extremely hard to make this camp successful. And huge thanks to Resha Tejpaul for supporting this program and giving us the opportunity to give back to our community. We are organizing two additional robotics summer camps in July and August to offer similar opportunities to more than 60 middle schoolers. 

We want to congratulate the 2023 graduates of the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Robotics Institute MS in Robotics program. We are so excited to have the following students complete their studies with us and begin their next chapters working in Robotics, AI, and Computer Vision: Timothy Dorn, Haoyuan Du, Sowmiya Narayanan Govindaraj, Srujan G L, Ben Hamlen, Himanshu Joshi, Pranav Julakanti, Shreyas Kallapur, Rahul Moorthy, Kavish Manoj Shah, Nathan Robert Raab, Corey Senger, Haoyi Shi Faizan Siddiqui, Bharath Sivaram, Siddhant Yelwande, and Jordan ZumBerge. 

Our graduate program is moving at full speed to welcome our Fall 2023 cohort. We have completed our first orientation and look forward to more welcoming events in August. Forty-five new students are currently enrolled for Fall 2023, and three for Spring 2024. Compared to last year, we expect a more than 30% increase in the number of students present on the first day of classes. Please consider welcoming these students to your research labs, as several of you have found them to be great research collaborators. 

Lastly, I would like to share some thoughts about the impact of AI tools like ChatGPT on our research and educational activities. Although I was initially worried about the potentially negative role of ChatGPT on our classes and research, during the last few months, I have been reading and thinking more about the opportunities these tools bring to the forefront of AI. For example, I am planning to use ChatGPT in my course CSCI 5551 (Introduction to Intelligent Robotic Systems) to help students find pertinent literature for their projects, improve their writing, and improve their creative thinking, and to help me automate the grading process and provide more personalized feedback than is currently available. Of course, there are concerns about using these tools—the plagiarizing of research or assignments/tests, security and bias introduced in the provided answers, and so on—but we believe that we have to adapt our practices to capitalize on their huge potential.

My best wishes for a great remainder of the summer full of health,

Nikos Papanikolopoulos
Minnesota Robotics Institute Director