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Colin Scholler

Robotics engineer modifies consumer robots to assist in the lab

Robotics fascinated Colin Scholler as early as high school starting with the moment his school held a FIRST Robotics Competition. Scholler would join the team and developed a deep curiosity for just how far the autonomy of a robot could be pushed. This curiosity took him to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he received his bachelor’s degree in robotics engineering.

Colin Scholler

Colin Scholler takes consumer robots and turns them into tools for the lab. Pictured above: Scholler flying a drone whose code he modified. (Photo Credit: KyleKyle Usbeck)

Scholler then interned at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) National Laboratory, which maintains the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), a free electron laser facility used to take ultrafast X-rays at atomic resolutions. There he heard about the Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) Robotics Internship Program from his soon to be mentor, Sameen Yunus.

The EERE Robotics Internship Program is an opportunity for college students and recent graduates to intern with Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories for the continued development of the robotics technical and engineering workforce.

The program brought him back to SLAC where he focused on optimizing remote workforce efficiency through consumer robotics at LCLS.

“SLAC’s facilities are full of complicated instruments. Despite a significant number of these instruments having the ability to be remotely operated and adjusted, troubleshooting steps must be conducted on site,” he said. “The goal of this project was to put custom firmware on an off-the-shelf Double Robotics Double 3 which would allow the platform to automatically drive to the site of a detected fault allowing an engineer an on-site view of the issue without needing to be there in person.”

A Double 3 is a telepresence robot by Double Robotics designed to help remote workers be more present in an office space. Scholler and his team took this product and inputted their own code into the hardware. The custom code allowed the robot to access areas it typically could not. This mitigated the issue of an engineer needing to be on-site to solve problems with lab machinery.

“I thought that trying to modify an existing off-the-shelf product to do something that extends its intended capabilities was a very engaging and rewarding experience,” Scholler enthused.

He reflected back on his internship and how it helped him hone his skills in research and development, which is related to the kind of work he does today. Scholler was also impressed with being able to communicate directly with the manufacturers of consumer robotic devices in order to understand the product. Lastly, he found remote research to be a useful way to practice communication and organization outside of a lab.

Today, Scholler is an associate robotics engineer in the Autonomy Lab at Systems and Technology Research (STR). Scholler says that the research he performed at ORISE is similar to what he does at STR, though now he puts his knowledge to use on drone swarms. Just as he took Double 3 telecommunication robots and changed their base code, he now takes off-the-shelf drones and edits their base code to extend their capabilities. Though he did not stay on with the DOE’s SLAC lab, he says the internship influenced him positively at a job that he now enjoys immensely.

“I would absolutely recommend the ORISE program,” he said. “The program itself was extremely accommodating and communicative at all steps of the appointment process. Also, the facility that I had the opportunity to work at was full of extremely smart, helpful, and interesting people. The combination of these made a very pleasant and rewarding experience.”

The EERE Robotics Internship Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and administered through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).