Custom Fit

The students worked diligently to get their robot bodies form-fitted over their circuit boards and chassis.

Please see our RoboSlam blog for more photos of this phase of robot-construction.

Robot Design and Rapid Prototyping

Product design, rapid prototyping, statistical analysis, and body construction: our second day of RoboSlam covered all sorts of topics!

We got an overview of product design from DIT lecturers Ger Reilly and Kevin Delaney and designed bodies for our robots. Then, we divided into groups so that we’d all get to tour the rapid prototyping lab, learn about statistical analysis, and start crafting our robot bodies from rigid foam using the hot wire cutter.

Please visit our RoboSlam blog to see the range of things we accomplished this day….

Slammin’ ‘Bots!

I’ve still got dozens upon dozens of images to post of robot building, but for now I’ll skip to the end and show you how things shaped up….

RoboSlam Group Photo

RoboSlam Group Photo

A huge “thank you” to the 37 amazing students who participated in RoboSlam last week… your enthusiasm for robot-building and dedication to learning made the week a success for us all!

Final Robots

Final Robots

RoboSlam–Extended Version

Yesterday the students who built robots with the crew coordinated by Drs. Ted Burke and Damon Berry headed over to DIT’s Bolton Street location to learn about mechanical, industrial, and product design. Thanks to Kevin Delaney, Ger Reilly, Susan O’Shaughnessy and crew for a fascinating day! I’ll be posting lots more photos of RoboSlam in the days to come.  It’s been such fun!

PBL at the Polytechnic School of Águeda

The audience was composed of experts and students in engineering and education.

The audience was composed of experts and students in engineering and education.

Visiting Portugal’s University of Aveiro some weeks ago provided me opportunities to speak with doctoral students and professors of engineering and education.

After I delivered a formal presentation to a small but enthusiastic group at the University of Aveiro’s Department of Education, my host, José Manuel Nunes de Oliveira drove me to the University’s satellite campus, known as the Polytechnic School of Águeda (or Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão de Águeda, Universidade de Aveiro) where he teaches engineering.

Jose and his colleagues use Problem-Based Learning to teach engineering students.  They have formatted their classrooms to support group-based learning.  (My DIT colleague, Gavin Duffy, visited Jose and his campus earlier in the year to see how they use space. He wanted their advice to help in the programming phase of DIT’s new engineering facilities.)

What impressed me most in touring the buildings and grounds of the Águeda campus, though, was that the students were all working in groups–and that they seemed to be doing so on every type of project.

Jose says that after the teachers introduce the group-learning approach in the first year, students embrace it and want to do everything this way.

I thought that Jose said that students receive credit for their topic courses (i.e.,those with specific engineering content), but not for their project work (I was wrong, as I explain in my subsequent blog). In architecture we refer to these technical/topic classes as “support courses.”

All the courses a students take in a semester at the Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão de Águeda help support the project they have been asked to do in groups. They are able to apply what they learn in the projects they design… but they don’t get formal credit for the design activities. In architecture in the USA, the design activities are assigned the most credit (typically 5-6 credit hours per semester) while each support course is generally worth just 3 credits. The architecture community tends to value the project or “design studio” work above all else.

A Chilly Antique Car Show in Smithfield

A dozen and a half owners of antique cars braved the frigid temperatures Sunday to show their treasures on Smithfield’s cobblestoned plaza. Among the collection were a couple cute old Minis and a dozen or so old Triumphs.

The photos below show my favorites from the show.  I love viewing early model autos!

Seeing them on Smithfield Plaza, an important industrial hub of 19th century Dublin, is all the more fun.

Robot Guts!

The answer is YES!  You just need teammates and awesome teachers to help you find your way.  They’re building simple robots at DIT with sophomore engineering students… and sometimes even with school kids.

Mapping the Moving Dream

Venetikidis's dream for Dublin. (Image downloaded from

Aris Venetikidis’ dream for Dublin transport. (Image downloaded from The Atlantic Cities.)

For an architect/urban theorist/planner like myself, Dublin’s transportation system seems to defy logic. I lack the adjectives to describe it.

But Eric Jaffe depicted the situation effectively in his October 2012 article in The Atlantic Cities.

His piece, titled “The ‘Confusing and Nonsensical Grandeur’ of Dublin Transport,” highlighted solutions posed by Aris Venetikidis, a skilled and clairvoyant graphic designer.

Apparently when Venetikidis arrived in Dublin, he was as perplexed as my sister and I about the lack of a comprehensive transportation network map. It’s a guide we look to in other cities when we want to travel around. We consider it essential.

Venetikidis let this frustration blossom into beauty. Like Colin Broderick, he too created a map of existing routes.

And then Venetikidis took this work a step farther.  He researched the history of past proposals. And he designed several new maps. They illustrate how various moves could improve transportation by making the network more coherent.

Jaffe’s article on the topic is worth a read… I thank Fulbrighter Amanda Burnhard for send it my way!

Dinner with my Dear in Chesapeake City

Dramatic bridge that spans the C&D Canal at Chesapeake City, Maryland.  This image is from Wikipedia.

Headed to the eastern shore of Maryland by auto last night, Dave and I enjoyed spectacular evening sky.  The vibrant pink and purple Pennsylvania sunset melted into a jacquard pattern of clouds illuminated by a bright, shiny, and very-full moon.  Unfortunately, my iPhone didn’t do the sky justice from the window of Dave’s truck.

Along the way we stopped for dinner at the Bayard House along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in Chesapeake City, Maryland.

The picturesque town is fully decked in Christmas cheer.

While we ate, we had the thrill of seeing a large cargo ship — the type that delivers new cars to the Philadelphia area — pass under the bridge spanning high above the historic city and the wide canal.  This canal “is one of the few fully sea-level shipping canals in the world. The original C & D Canal was built privately in the 1820s, and it opened for business in 1829” according to the PennWays website.

Chugging toward a Better Future in the USA

Amtrak service is up and running between Norfolk VA and Washington DC. (Photo downloaded from Facebook, by Downtown Norfolk.)

Amtrak service is up and running between Norfolk VA and Washington DC. (Photo downloaded from Facebook, by Downtown Norfolk.)

Today is a big day in Hampton Roads, Virginia, which is the place I call home.

Passenger train service is finally up and running–direct from Norfolk to Washington DC.

I think this route was available long ago in history, but it hasn’t been since I moved to the region in 1998 (and also not for a long time before that). I’ve had to drive all the way to Newport News to catch the Amtrak up to now.

Long ago, the auto-making companies in the US bought up many of the rail lines. In many instances, they dug up the tracks or sold the linear lines to multiple parties–all to make the system unworkable and difficult to reinstate.

But today, Hampton Roads has overcome some major obstacles and re-upped its route.

On Facebook, “Downtown Norfolk” says “the station can be found in Harbor Park. The first train leaves at 4:50am and the station will be open at 4am. Tickets are not sold at the station and must be purchased in advance. Please contact Amtrak to make your reservation or visit“.

I have to say, though, that as happy as I am about the new train service, the photo that Downtown Norfolk posted on Facebook shows just a glimmer of hope in a very bleak landscape.

The photo is a depressing depiction of what we’ve done to the land in the USA. Asphalt. Plastic. Ugliness wall to wall.

We can, and we must, do better.