Clarkson University students (left to right) Nathan Torkaman ’13, Minxian He ’13 and Adam Brewster ’15 competed in the Japan Society for Precision Engineering's sixth annual International Micro-Mechanism Contest in Japan on March 13. The students also enjoyed a variety of Japanese cultural experiences, including dressing up in traditional attire for afternoon tea.
POTSDAM -- Though half a world apart, students at Clarkson University and Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) have forged a common bond through robotics.
A team of three Clarkson students traveled to Japan to compete in the Japan Society for Precision Engineering's sixth annual International Micro-Mechanism Contest on March 13, with support from Kyutech students and faculty.
Minxian He ’13, an electrical engineering major from Rego Park, Nathan Torkaman ‘13, a mechanical engineering major from Alfred, and Adam Brewster ’15, a mechanical engineering major from West Henrietta, comprised the only American team at the competition, which was otherwise attended by Japanese and Taiwanese students.
The Clarkson trio put their 30-by-20-by-20 millimeter robot to the test against their competitors and won “The Excellent Award” as the only team to operate its device through a smartphone.
“They represented not only Clarkson but the college-aged population so well,” Jeffrey Taylor, Clarkson’s study abroad program administrator, said. “For two cultures that have a language barrier, you almost didn’t know that from the way the students interacted with each other.”
The trip to Japan is the latest chapter in the two-year partnership between Kyutech and Clarkson, according to Clarkson Prof. James Carroll, director of the Northern NY Robotics Academy at Clarkson, which manages the regions FIRST robotics programs.
A team from Kyushu, led by Professor Takahiro Ito, participated in championship-level FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions held at Clarkson during the fall semester. Clarkson, in turn, travels to Japan to participate in the competition with Kyushu each spring.
Clarkson will look to participate in other international robotics activities in the future that foster student interest in the science, engineering technology and mathematics (STEM) disciplines both locally and on a global scale, Carroll said.
“These exchanges present students with invaluable learning experiences,” Carroll said. “Getting out of the classroom and experiencing a new culture can open a student’s eyes and make them more likely to take advantage of the global opportunities that present themselves later in their careers.”
The trip was the first abroad experience for both Torkaman and Brewster, who grew up in upstate New York. The group had several cultural opportunities on the trip, including attending afternoon tea in formal Japanese attire and visiting Toto, a worldwide manufacturer of toilets. Torkaman particularly enjoyed riding Japan’s train system.
“It was a good time exploring, seeing everything and taking in as much as possible,” he said.
“I got my first experience out of the country and into a setting where communication of the simplest things was a challenge,” Brewster said. “I also as an engineer took away many of the ideas that were established as normal in their culture, such as their transportation and water and electricity usage.”
The experience also inspired He. Prior to the trip, she could only figure out so many ways to fit all of the tiny pieces into the micro-robot. She learned several new ways to design one at the competition.
“When I went to the competition and saw what others did, it gave me a lot of new ideas,” she said. “It just opened my eyes to see it.”