Every year, the Vaughn Robotics Team participates in the VEX Worlds Robotics Competition. Here, this team competes against other student teams from schools all over the world, where they design and create robots with the goal of completing a themed task. The ultimate purpose of this competition is for all students to exercise their creative, analytical and technical skills to the limit. And with the great advances made in robotic technology on a near-daily basis, there is next to no limit of what can be accomplished.
Giving credit where it is due, Boston Dynamics introduces dog robot “Spot”
Take one nearly futuristic example of combined creativity and technology that was recently unveiled by Boston Dynamics, a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Essentially, “man’s best friend” is taking on a new role here, as its latest robot (named Spot) embarks on literally covering new ground.
The team at Boston Dynamics designed the untethered dog-like robot to assist in search and rescue operations and for being able to access disaster zones. Its sturdy and sure-footed design allows Spot to carry supplies over uneven terrain, while its super-human stability allows it to keep its balance, even when kicked over on its side. Designed as the baby brother to BigDog, the company’s quadrupedal robot, Spot is smaller and lighter and comes equipped with onboard sensors that allow it to recover quickly if it encounters hostile territory or a situation where it might “trip” or tip over. Weighing in at 160 pounds, Spot is about 80 pounds lighter than his big brother and has BigDog beat when climbing up hills.
Although Spot has a dog’s name, its gait is more like a prancing horse. This electronically-powered robot may not have the same ability to carry the same weight as its big brother, but Spot’s unique dexterity allows it to navigate difficult areas, both indoors and outdoors. And when it comes to “seeing” the environment, Spot was designed with a rotating sensor on its back, rather than on a head-like structure.
This project was made possible with funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), whose mission is to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.
Other “species” of robots
Spot is the newest arrival among the family of incredible animal-like robots from Boston Dynamics. Other cool creations include the WildCat, the world’s fastest free-running quadruped robot on Earth, which can run almost 20 mph while maneuvering and maintaining its balance, and the SandFlea, which drives like a remote-controlled car and can leap almost 33 feet into the air to avoid obstacles.
What does Dr. Rahemi, Vaughn’s chair of engineering and technology, have to say?
In preparation for the VEX Worlds Robotics Competition, the Vaughn Robotics team is aided and guided by Hossein Rahemi, PhD, chair of the Vaughn’s engineering and technology department. Dr. Rahemi has no doubt seen many impressive technological advancements in his day, and he is most enthusiastic about the latest developments from Boston Dynamics. “Today, robotics technology is advancing at a lightning pace, making our lives easier, better and safer than ever before,” he states. “We’re seeing robots going places that are too difficult or dangerous for humans to go, such as war zones deep within the sea and bomb threat areas, just to name a few.”
Vaughn students learn not just technology, but purpose
To keep up with the pace of robotics technology, and its purpose, Rahemi stresses Vaughn College’s commitment to educating its students on the importance of a sense of service to mankind. A top priority is the improvement of our environment to be a better and safer place. “We motivate, engage and provide our students with all the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful in their career path,” Rahemi said. “Together, we can all be responsible individuals in the society we serve.”
If you are studying aviation or engineering in an institution such as Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, you may be hearing the acronym “TFR” around campus, or even in the news. But what does “TFR” stand for? Very simply: “temporary flight restriction.” And recently, these seemingly temporary situations are occurring more frequently.
What is the purpose of a TFR?
A TFR is issued to clear and restrict an area of airspace for security or safety and it is a necessary part of aviation protocol. In fact, there are typically several TFRs in place every day across the National Airspace System (NAS). Some examples of why TFRs might be issued include:
- The movement of government VIPs such as the president or vice president
- Special events, including the Super Bowl, political conventions, and other occasions such as the United Nations General Assembly
- Natural disasters such as wildfires
The trouble resulting from TFRs is how they can wreak havoc on the aviation industry, ultimately making the friendly skies not so friendly.
Dr. Maxine Lubner, professor and chair of the management department at Vaughn College, weighs in on the subject of TFRs and their impact. “Now more than ever, airport managers of our country’s smaller airports are facing more frequently occurring challenges due to TFRs,” she states. “We hope to see an improvement in TFR issuance by implementing a combination of revised procedures, technology applications and communication systems. I believe it’s time to revisit how TFRs are issued and used in light of the current impacts they are having on general aviation and the surrounding communities in a way that would both preserve security and business activity.”
Who’s feeling the greatest impact?
Smaller municipal and privately-owned airports are experiencing the greatest impacts―both on their runways and in their wallets―when it comes to VIP TFRs. Recent presidential movement in both New Jersey and Florida have crippled smaller airports surrounding President Trump’s visits, locking down runways and restricting flying within the duration of his stay.
New Jersey-based airports that include Morristown, Solberg and Somerset, and Lantana Airport in Florida, have seen recent significant financial impacts, not to mention restrictions on flights to and from LaGuardia Airport in New York and Palm Beach International Airport in Florida. Temporary flight restrictions create a no-fly zone within a 10-mile radius during the president’s entire stay, while looser regulations restrict air traffic within a 30-mile radius, thus impacting related-aviation businesses. Some of these affected businesses include:
- Flight training schools
- Aircraft parking and rentals
- Sky diving charters
- Balloon flights
- Fuel sales
The loss of revenue is staggering. While some airports are reporting financial losses in the tens of thousands, some have stated their losses are upward of $800,000.
Relieving the financial strain
Although TFRs are here to stay, the question remains: What steps can be taken to relieve the financial strain of TFRs on smaller airports? The answer may not be an easy one, but state representatives and the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) are working on a solution.
To stay up-to-date on this and other related topics, visit the Industry News section on the Vaughn College website.
It should come as no surprise that college students experience a lot of stress. Between balancing their courses, studying, commuting, interning and frequently holding down a job on top of it all, pursuing a degree can be a challenge. Fortunately, students at Vaughn College can count on the office of counseling and wellness to help them prioritize both their mental and physical health.
Dr. Dinelly Holder, director of counseling and wellness at Vaughn, weighs in on the many on-campus programs and workshops available to students and how she and the College are committed to keeping them on a positive and healthy emotional track. “My goal at Vaughn is to give our students the support, encouragement and positivity they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
The Office of Counseling and Wellness
Vaughn encourages any student who may be feeling stressed, or just has the need talk to someone, to make an appointment at the office of counseling and wellness. “We want our students to know that we are here for them, no matter how trivial they may think their situation is,” said Dr. Holder. “It’s all about positivity and leaving here with a sense of purpose and a better mindset.”
Throughout the year, the office of counseling and wellness hosts interactive educational programs and live performances to engage students in some of today’s most prevalent issues, in addition to other wellness-related workshops and events.
Here is a snapshot of these on-campus events:
- “Sex Signals”—This educational program features a live performance with local actors who depict real-life scenarios surrounding inappropriate behavior and sexual advances. The student audience is asked to participate when the situation becomes inappropriate or dangerous. “This program ties in with the ‘see something, say something’ movement,” Dr. Holder explained. “It’s a great way for students to have a voice while learning the importance of rape prevention.”
- Drug and Alcohol Workshop—This group workshop is presented by an outside expert who discusses the issues and dangers of drug and alcohol use. Students will gain helpful tips and prevention tactics to lead a drug and alcohol-free lifestyle.
- “Save a Life Tour”—This interactive educational program is designed to show students the hard reality of drinking or texting while driving. Students have the opportunity to sit in a simulator, or “drunk car,” to get an up-close experience of the devastating effects of driving under the influence. To drive the message home even further, students are presented with a graphic video of the harsh reality of what can happen if they take that chance. “Vaughn prides itself on being a drug and alcohol-free campus,” said Dr. Holder. “It’s important to instill the hard-hitting facts of the dangers associated with driving under the influence. This program is just another way Vaughn is committed to keeping its students safe.”
- Student Health Fair—This on-campus event features local doctors and vendors who present free products and screenings to students. These include offerings from eye doctors, dentists and organizations that promote safe sex practices.
Dr. Holder makes her presence known on campus throughout the year by organizing events where she distributes information on various relevant topics which include healthy relationships, confidence, depression and anxiety, and self-esteem. “It’s important that I make myself as visible as possible,” Dr. Holder said. “I want to make sure the students are reminded that I’m here for them no matter what the issue is.”
Every fall and spring semester, student veterans can work with Vaughn’s veteran liaison to ensure all their government funding is in order, and inquire about other veteran services.
In addition to the health and wellness workshops, fairs and programs throughout the year, Vaughn also has a state-of-the-art fitness center where students can work out and train year-round. The facility features cardio and weight training machines, and students can take strength and conditioning classes from Ricky McCollum, the director of athletics and head men’s basketball coach.
Words of Positivity
As a licensed clinical psychotherapist, Dr. Holder has more than 15 years of experience in the field. She says today’s students are faced with multiple stressors that can wreak havoc on their mental and physical well-being. “One of the most important things I encourage my students to do is speak positively to themselves,” said Dr. Holder. “There’s only one you. Instilling positivity gives students the boost they need to succeed.”
We all want to love what we do but turning a dream into a reality isn’t always simple. For 24 year-old Desiree Aguilar ’20, enrolling in the Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS) program at Vaughn College’s Aviation Training Institute in May was the turning point to launching her dream career.
Aguilar has always loved working with her hands. She recalls fond memories of growing up in Brooklyn, New York, where she would help her grandfather paint, work on cars, and do all sorts of fixing up around the house. “My grandfather encouraged me as a young girl that I could do anything I wanted in life―even work in male-dominated fields like mechanics,” said Aguilar. “He gave me the confidence to look past the stereotypes.”
After graduating from high school, Aguilar worked for the next six years as a paralegal at a local law firm and took classes at a community college, where she studied psychology. During that time, she gave birth to her daughter, Divine. “I realized after becoming a mother that I needed to support myself and my daughter the best way I knew how,” Aguilar said. “And that way is working with my hands.”
Aguilar was drawn to Vaughn’s Aviation Training Institute. “It was the perfect fit for my passion to work with my hands and my love of aviation,” Aguilar stated. She dove right into the program—hands first—and is loving every minute. Aguilar appreciates the one-on-one attention in the small class setting and the boundless industry knowledge of her experienced faculty. “The instructors at Vaughn have real-world experience and make me feel comfortable and right at home.” When it comes to working in the lab, she said the hands-on experience is an invaluable part of the program. “It may have taken me a few years to get here but now that I’m working toward earning my degree, the sky’s the limit on where I can go.”
Eyes on the Prize
Aguilar plans on graduating with her AOS degree in the fall of 2020, which is when she will also receive her Airframe and Powerplant Certificate. Her career goal is to work for a commercial airline at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport as an aviation maintenance technician. “My dream is to repair airplanes and handle the inspections,” Aguilar stated. “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) protocol is a very strict process and one that I will take very seriously. You can’t wing it!”
Opening Doors of Opportunity
Aguilar is grateful to her family who cares for her two-year old daughter while she’s in school, and to Vaughn for offering a program and a future she had only dreamed of before. “It’s a challenge balancing school and being a mom,” Aguilar said humbly. “I’m pursuing my dream, so my daughter can someday look up to me and know that I did it all for her,” said Aguilar. “Just as my grandfather encouraged me, I want to instill the same in Divine, so she can live her own dream.”