SMU Robotics Club with Seahorse submersibleThe SMU Robotics Club made the news in July 2007 when its swimming robot was stolen two days before a major competition. But with its fortunes now in high gear, the Club will take the floor with the plucky Seahorse submersible (left) and two new creations during Tech Fest 2008 at the Museum of Nature and Science in Fair Park. Read more.

The Robotics Club captured the community’s imagination when Seahorse 1, an underwater robot designed to hunt for submerged treasure, was stolen from a car less than 48 hours before the team was to leave for the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition in San Diego. The search for the submersible, its rescue by three East Dallas teenagers, and the club’s subsequent top 10 performance at the competition were the stuff of headlines.

Steve Hinkley, the Museum’s education director, remembered those headlines. He contacted Robotics Club President Nathan Huntoon (at left in the above photo) through the club’s website and invited its members to create a display for Tech Fest 2008.

“We’re trying to connect with kids and families, and there’s no better way to do that than exposing them to a club like this – a small, self-generated group committed to a passion for what they do,” Hinkley says.

That mission is a perfect fit for the Robotics Club, Huntoon says. “Our main goal is education. Every member of the club is constantly learning new things, whether they are freshman or doctoral students. That is what makes engineering and science so great: You are always growing and learning.”

Whenever the Robotics Club participates in events where children are present, “our goal is to show them that truth,” Huntoon adds. “The robots we build are simply a medium to help us spread that message – because, quite frankly, robots are cool. Our hope is that seeing how excited we are about them will ignite passion in someone else, who will then go on to pursue a career in science or engineering.”

The group will hold demonstrations with its affectionately nicknamed “Yellow Submarine” and working parts from its new submersible, as well as a third Robotics Club project, Huntoon says. “We will have a booth at the museum just for the club, and we’ll be manning it throughout the festival, so we should get a lot of exposure,” he adds.

After raising $25,000 in gifts during the fall, including $10,000 cash grants from both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, the club has built its two new robots “without costing SMU a penny,” Huntoon says. “We’re on our way to our goal of being completely industry-supported.”

Tech Fest 2008 takes place noon-5 p.m. Feb. 23-24 at the Museum of Nature and Science, 3535 Grand Avenue and 1318 S. 2nd Avenue in Fair Park. For more information, contact the Museum, 214-428-5555.