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Pandemic meets robotics in LTU student's hand sanitizer dispenser

Release Date: March 26, 2020

Student Joe Schulte with his robotic hand sanitizer dispenser.
LTU Robofest YouTube channel.

It’s certainly hard to find any fun in the many precautions demanded by the Coronavirus pandemic.

But a computer science student at Lawrence Technological University has managed to come up with one for youthful robot builders.

Joe Schulte has designed a robot that automatically dispenses hand sanitizer. He said the robot took him about two days to design and build after a suggestion by LTU computer science professor CJ Chung. It’s a do-it-yourself home version of the automatic dispensers found in many commercial settings, and a fun home activity for any aspiring roboteer.

Schulte, a graduate of Northville High School, also volunteers at LTU’s Robofest worldwide robotics competition, which was created by Chung and is held annually throughout the year.

“I like to do projects that help kids learn robotics,” Schulte said. “That’s my primary goal in helping out with Robofest, helping kids solve problems. With this project, it was a way to tie in robotics with everything else that’s going on.”

Schulte said he progressed through three theoretical designs and two practical designs before achieving success. The robot uses an infrared distance sensor to know when to provide a squirt of hand sanitizer. “The sensor waits to detect something within a certain threshold to trigger, and then it waits for that thing to leave a certain threshold before resetting to trigger again,” Schulte said.

The robot was built out of parts found in Lego’s Mindstorm EV3 robot kit. “It might use a few more pieces than are in the base EV3 kit, but it’s all EV3 pieces,” Schulte said. “Since we are using Lego pieces, it’s easy to adjust the cage in the robot to hold any size of sanitizer bottle.”

Schulte and LTU’s Robofest office originally planned to teach kids how to build and program the robot in a live workshop, but with the pandemic, it’s now offered online. A video of the robot in action may be found at https://youtu.be/ftC1JdbZK8Q, and a manual to build the robot is at https://robofest.net/2020/HandSanitizerInst.pdf. The software that runs the robot is at http://robofest.net/2020/HandSanitizer.ev3. (Software available on the Lego website, https://education.lego.com/en-us/downloads/mindstorms-ev3/software#MicroPython, is required to use the code.)

Schulte is on track to earn to Bachelor of Science degrees from LTU—one in mathematics and one in computer science—in December 2020, and then a Master of Science in computer science in December 2021.

Lawrence Tech eliminated all in-person courses the week of its spring break March 9-13, extended its spring break a week, and then began teaching all courses online March 23. It will continue teaching online through the end of its spring semester May 15, and has postponed its scheduled May 9 Commencement to December.


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