Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Durham Tech had another great NASA opportunity this Spring, the Swarmathon.

The Swarmathon was a challenge designed to get students more involved in programming using ROS (Robot Operating System) and to help NASA guide small rovers called, "Swarmies" to do tasks and collect resources. Eventually this technology could be helpful for space exploration.

This was a tremendous opportunity for our students because it exposed them to a programming language that few people in the country have experience with. Also, they had multiple opportunities to network with NASA and get advice from experts. We were also lucky to get some assistance from experts in the local community.

This software requires a lot of computing power so we were very thankful when our IT department loaned us some machines that we could dedicate solely to running the platform for this competition. Without their generosity I doubt we would have made it very far in this competition.

The team, lead by Kory Menke worked incredibly hard on the challenge and spent some late nights in the geology lab.  The team was composed of Jacob de Forest, Guan-Wen Chou, Jacob Metcalf, Stefalo Acha, and Jimmy Acevedo with help from UNC Computer Science Graduate Student Teryl Taylor, Duke Robotics Graduate Student Barrett Ames. Tom Murphy and I advised the group but they didn't need much from me, I mostly tried to sort out the logistics of what they needed and made sure they could access the computers. 

Kory really dedicated a lot of leadership to this project and made sure the team met milestones and worked out the problems with the code. When they hit bugs, he would chase down the answers. When they needed help, he would reach out to experts. I'm very proud of how he handled these obstacles and look forward to working on our next project (spoiler alert: drones) with him. We're pleased that Kory was offered a research fellowship over the summer as a result of his dedication to the Swarmathon.

This year our school was selected to participate in the Virtual Competition but next year we might apply for the Physical Competition where they send Swarmies to your campus. 

If you're interested to see how Durham Tech performs in the  Swarmathon Virtual competition you can see videos of the competing four Semi-finalist teams at 3:30PM Eastern Time on Thursday, April 21, 2016.  It may be possible that our team is in the Semi-final rounds, so tune in at They are also running a score board on that site so you can see how well we do. Regardless of the outcome, I am thrilled with our team and how hard they worked for this event. 

The winners will be announced at the Award Ceremony at 4:30PM Eastern Time on Thursday, April 21, 2016.