About Me – Max Kirkpatrick

Hello all! My name is Max Kirkpatrick and I am a mechanical engineering major from the University of South Carolina. I am 21 years old and heading into my senior year at USC (not to be confused with the one in southern California). I’ve been involved in robotics since elementary school, starting with Lego robots. I participated in FIRST robotics programs through high school and grew to love building and programming robotic systems. At USC I have conducted research in robotics and applications in 3D printing at the McNair Aerospace Center. My focus has been on the development of a 6 DOF system for 3D printing of carbon fiber composites. Additionally I have conducted research in 3D printing of piezoelectric polymers, and this research was presented at the IEEE Sensors conference in Orlando, FL.

I applied for this REU program as a means to broaden my horizons in the research world. I have worked for the same lab for the last 2 years and was curious to see how other labs approach research problems. This program offers me a chance to explore a slightly different research area and perhaps see where my interests in the field of robotics lay. Additionally I was hoping that this experience would help me decide how interested I am in graduate school, and whether a PhD or a masters is more suited to me.

I’m looking forward to a productive summer working alongside fellow researchers here at UW Stout.

About Me – Megan Robinson

Hello! My name is Megan. I am 20 years old and I am originally from Akron, Ohio. I just completed my sophomore year at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where I am working towards a BS in Computer Science with a minor in Spanish. At Case I participate in the robotics club (CWRUbotix) and I am captain of the women’s club soccer team. In my spare time I enjoy hanging out with friends, playing board games, petting my cat, or attempting whatever projects I happen to find on Pinterest.

I came across the REU program as I was looking for something to do over the summer. Having no formal research experience, this program seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to get my feet wet. This particular program was especially appealing to me because I have always found robotics fascinating and am always looking for ways to get more experience in this field. My goals for this summer are to expand my knowledge of robotics and get valuable research experience that will help me narrow down my plans for the future.

As of right now my plans for after graduation are still up in the air. My hope is that my experience with the REU program this summer will help me decide whether I want to continue my studies in grad school or move on to working in industry. Wherever I end up going, I’m sure this program will turn out to be a very important step along the way!

About Me – Ryan


Hello all! My name is Ryan – I’m 21 years old and I live in Laguna Hills, California (in between LA and San Diego). I’m a rising senior at Lafayette College, and I will be earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a math minor. My primary extracurricular activity at Lafayette is the crew team – I’ve been rowing since my junior year of high school and I couldn’t be more in love with the sport! I’m also a member of the outdoors society, and have always had a passion for hiking, backpacking, and camping.

I applied for this REU because I’ve always been very interested in robotics and it seemed like an awesome opportunity to gain more exposure in the field. I’m hoping to really get inspired with the work I do this summer, as well as get a better idea of what I might want to study in grad school. Since I’m somewhat of a newbie to the field of robotics, I anticipate that I’ll be doing a whole lot of learning this summer as well, and I can’t wait to get started!

In the future, I plan on pursuing a PhD in grad school, perhaps in the fields of soft robotics or prosthetics.

About Me – Charles Bales

Hello! My name is Charles Bales and I’m from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am currently studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Tulsa, and will be starting my junior year in the Fall. I enjoy reading, going out with friends, and tabletop games of all sorts. I participated in my high school’s FIRST Robotics team, and became interested in robotics through my time there. This interest narrowed down to robotic prosthetics during my first couple years at TU.

I discovered this REU when browsing a list of robotics-related summer programs. While they were numerous, this one specifically caught my attention due to its focus on assistive robotics. I have not had much experience with the mechanical functionality and coding that goes into robotic systems, so I hope that the opportunity I’ve been given will help me improve in this area. I also look forward to the experience of working with fellow students on a research project.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I would like to attend graduate school to further my education in robotics, and hopefully narrow it down to working with prosthetics and assistive robotic systems. If I can find a position in industry that assists me in working on my graduate degree at the same time, then all the better. I hope to end up in R&D at a company that allows me to do work in this field. Regardless, I am looking forward to my time at UW Stout!


About Me – Evan Weiler

Hi! My name is Evan Weiler. I’m from Claremont, California. This fall I am going to be a junior in Computer Engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Some of my biggest passions include baseball, aviation, and technology. I try to apply these passions in various activities that I participate in on and off campus such as the Science of Baseball, one of my favorite clubs and the one I am most proud to be a part of. When I’m not doing school work you can catch me biking, watching a baseball game, or hanging out with friends.

I first heard about the REU program when my friend recommended I apply to one. Because of my interest in robotics, I decided to look specifically into REU programs relating to that field. I came across the program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and thought it was a great opportunity, so I decided to apply. Now that I’ve learned what the subject material is, I’m even more excited. I love using the power of engineering to better the everyday lives of people. That is one thing that I hope to get out of the REU experience; a sense of accomplishment and confirmation that I could help someone with the work I did. I also hope to simply get experience in the field of robotics and to fine tune my skills in using FPGA boards and the Verilog programming language.

When I graduate college I plan on going into industry to apply what I’ve learned over the previous four years. I would love to be hired at a company that pertains to one of my passions, whether it be in aviation or in baseball. Working at a company like Honeywell, Raytheon, or Boeing would be a dream come true. Despite this, I would not rule out graduate school. We will see!


About Kari

Hello my name is Kari! To introduce myself a little bit, I graduated from Blaine High School in 2014 and wasn’t very involved in extracurricular activities. I attend the Computer Engineering program at North Dakota State University in Fargo and unlike high school I am very involved in organizations. I enjoy hanging out with friends, working out, and for my introverted side I like to watch TV and movies.

My interest in the REU program was mainly because of two reasons. Robots and Wisconsin. My favorite coding projects are ones that make some kind of hardware work when you run it and I am really excited to do a project that will fulfill that. I hope to get out of this experience being able to start a project from the beginning. I enjoy troubleshooting but struggle in the “initials” of a project, especially by myself. I would like to gain new connections with my colleagues and am interested to see what is in store for me starting next week!

I plan to go into the industry after I graduate because I want to be able to make a difference whether that is in the medical device field, the energy field, or something else. Like I said before, I just want to make some sort of difference with whatever I do.IMG_2532

Results and Closing Notes

In our last couple weeks for the project our Jaco 2 robot arm by Kinova was having software issue. We were able to get our system working, but not consistently. After working with the Kinova support team we finally fixed the software issue with the robot. The Semi-Autonomous Meal Assistance Robot (S.A.M.A.R) is fully functional. The Jaco arm is paired with a Microsoft Kinect V2 sensor. This combination detects when the users mouth is open, tracks the users head, brings the food to their mouth, and does not spill the contents it is carrying.

 An argument could be made that this system is too complex and that facial expression recognition could be replaced with a simple button instead. However, this is only the beginning of this concept and our project has developed the base of this technology. This technology is not just limited to meal assistance, the Jaco arm can easily be programmed to complete other tasks. The Kinect also tracks multiple face features which can lead to tasks triggered by a single facial expression or combinations of expressions. To expand the concept of our project, the Kinect also has voice control. The possibilities of ways to trigger the Jaco arm through the Kinect are endless.

Over my time doing research for assistive technology one of the biggest things that I have learned is that it is very difficult to design something for general use. There are many disabilities that are unique and therefore required unique devices depending on what the user is capable of and their needs. Our project can lead to libraries of task that are custom made to fit the needs of a specific user. The ways of triggering the tasks, such as facial expressions or voice control, can also be custom made to fit the capabilities of the user. Our project is only the beginning, I hope that this research is continued because there is a bright future ahead.


This REU program has been a great experience for me. I really enjoyed the work that I completed with my group. Previously my experience with robots has been limited to manufacturing style systems but my experience at Stout has opened my eyes to a completely new world of robotics. I have learned a great deal about assistive technology and I’ve gotten a feel of what grad school is like. I have also enjoyed my time spent in the city of Menomonie. There are many scenic places to visit such as lake Menomin, Wakanda Park, Riverside park, and the Devils Punch Bowl park. Also for the most part, everything is within biking distance of Red Cedar Hall. I intend on returning to my university and complete my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. After I graduate I would like to start working in industry. Graduate school is something I would consider but perhaps further down the road. I’m excited to pursue more knowledge in robotics and can’t wait to see what the future holds for myself and the work that our group has done.


REU Reflection

Now that we have reached the end of the REU program, I am truly grateful for this experience. I was thanking my lucky stars that I took and intro to C++ course last spring, because the skills I learned were invaluable throughout this project. I was also able to build my knowledge of robotics, as I learned a lot more about the language used when developing robots and how to change and build upon existing code. Another important aspect of this project for me was working in a team. I have done lots of school projects in teams, but it is a whole different experience to work on a research project in a group.

I had a very nice time in Menomonie. The weather was for the most part beautiful, and I very much enjoyed myself here. It was really fun getting to know my roommate, Vanessa, and we had a lot of fun going to movies on Tuesday nights and Caribou on Thursdays, along with coffee breaks at Marion’s on occasion. A personal goal I had for myself was to get enough punches on my Marion’s punch card to get a free drink, and I was able to meet that goal. I got a free iced mocha if you were curious. Also I would highly recommend that drink.

After the program ends, I have just over three weeks until school starts for me. During that time, I will be working on a Flu study in my lab at the University of Minnesota. When school starts in the fall, I will be taking classes, working as a tutor, volunteering the lab, and working with a group of students to create the seat for my school’s solar vehicle project team. Something I’m greatly looking forward to in the fall is going to the SWE conference in Philadelphia.

Also, I would like to make a special internet shout out to Laura, who religiously read this blog.

Research Wrap Up

Things are winding down here at the Robotics REU. Though we had major technical difficulties, we were able to get the meal assistance robot working and some data collected. The final system didn’t end up entirely as I’d hoped, as when we tried testing it with someone with an upper extremity disability it didn’t work. When completed, I think this technology could have a huge impact. In the future, I hope that the meal assistance feature does more than just bring food to the user’s mouth, but also levels the utensil on its own.

I think there is a lot of different ways that this technology could improve in the future. A major advancement of our technology would be a way for the Kinect to determine the location of the base of the JACO arm. Currently, we need to directly measure the offset from the Kinect to the JACO in order for the meal assistance feature to bring food to the user’s mouth. If this were possible, the Kinect could be placed anywhere and the user would have more freedom with the system. In addition to this, the Kinect could be used to control not only the robot when eating, but also for other common movements the user wants the robot to do. For example, the user could smile to indicate that they want the robot to brush their teeth. I think there are a lot of ways future researchers could expand on our work in order to improve this technology.