Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 2, 2022

Earlier this month, over 100 students gathered in Hackerman Hall for the first ever Hopkins Robotics Club meeting. Surprised but excited by the large turnout, the club’s executive board members have already had to change their course of action.

“Our original idea was to enter a competition where a robot needs to find its way through a maze, which normally isn’t that difficult, but in this case you have to do a complicated algorithm. However, we now have a lot more people than we were expecting, so we’ve scrapped that. It’s hard to compete with that many people,” sophomore Max Yelsky, president of the Hopkins Robotics Club, said.

Instead, the executive board is planning to do more teaching this first semester, focusing on building a foundation of knowledge before veering into more challenging territory next year in the fall. This will include teaching new members about circuits, modeling in 3-D and programing robots.

Many of the new members were also surprised by the number of students wishing to become involved.

“The topic is interesting, but it’s definitely going to be hard to keep the club structured with a group this big. I was expecting like 10 people, and I think most people were too,” freshman Joe Peine said.

Others noted the benefits of having such a large group.

“Since there are so many members, I’d like us to get the opportunity to split up into groups based on our interests, and work on our own projects in those groups,” freshman Josh Gilbert said.

Due to the number of students that attended the first meeting, the Hopkins Robotics Club held two sections for their second meeting, in an effort to allow as many interested people to attend as possible. Somewhere between 30 and 40 students attended each meeting.

Primarily consisting of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science majors, the group has a range of skill levels. About half of the group has some experience building or working with robots, while the other half has no previous experience.

To accommodate different skillsets and levels of experience, the group will continue to hold two meetings per week. One meeting group will focus primarily on programming and the other group will focus on circuits. Next month, the club will begin learning about the mechanics of robotics and start building in small groups.

“With so many people, holding one meeting where everyone learns everything can be boring. We decided to hold separate meetings, so people can choose to attend the ones they’re interested in,” Yelsky said.

Members of the executive board started the Hopkins Robotics Club last semester after recognizing that there was not an established robotics interest group at Hopkins.

“Robotics is prevalent among engineering schools, so it was definitely something we wanted to take part in,” Yelsky said.

Due to the cost of robotics supplies and the larger number of students expressing interest in the group, funding became one of the major concerns for the group’s executive board.“We are hoping to get really basic controllers and a small body of a robot, and [to] get about 10 of these, so that groups of people can make their own robot. But just to buy these would be about $700 to $800, and that doesn’t even consider the miscellaneous stuff we’ll need. So already, that adds up to about $1,000,” Yelsky said.

Though the Hopkins Robotics Club was approved by the Student Government Association (SGA) last semester, they are not eligible for funding until next year.

“While our finances depend on what project we’re doing, there’s no way to avoid money in robotics,” sophomore Elliott Binder, vice president of the Hopkins Robotics Club, said.

To account for this, the group has reached out to and received funding from, different academic departments, including electrical engineering and computer science.

“Assuming we have about $5,000, which is a lot for a group that literally started right now, we want to buy some robots for everyone to work on and also buy something as a bigger project for the club,” Yelsky said.

While the Hopkins Robotics Club is the only robotics group currently active at the University, it is actually the third iteration of a similar club on campus. The most recent group, called Hopkins Robotics, was active from 2009-2010. Unlike the JHU Robotics Club, Hopkins Robotics was much smaller and more focused on competitions.

“I think they drove to D.C. and did some competitions there, but I guess it didn’t stick around as a group. All of the other schools that had robotics clubs have been doing it for years, so they had a base and knew what they were doing,” Binder explained.

New members were highly enthusiastic to see the Hopkins Robotics Club on campus and were thankful that the group is beginning with basic information, rather than diving straight to competitions.

“I wanted to be involved in something that used programming, and I think the idea of robots is cool. I’m also a computer science major, so it goes along with that. It seems really interesting, and it’s nice that everyone is relatively inexperienced,” sophomore Imoni McCorvey said.

The new club members are very optimistic for the future of their group on campus.

“At this point, if members stay interested in us, it’s the more the merrier. But even if some decide to leave, less people can be easier to deal with and to teach, so there’s no real losing now,” Yelsky said.

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