Mount Students Travel to West Point, Learn About Robotics in the Military

On January 28, 2020, nine Mount Saint Dominic Academy students traveled an hour north to the United States Military Academy at West Point, accompanied by Mrs. Elizabeth Rogacki, their robotics teacher and the Director of Technology, and Mr. John Galka, the Director of School and College Counseling. Rogacki’s three children all went to or are currently attending West Point. 

The group was escorted on campus by Mr. Pratheek Manjunath, an instructor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department.

Manjunath spoke to the students about robotics and computer science and their usefulness in the military. 

“A new area which the army is exploring with robotics is going beyond the standoff distance,” Manjunath said.

In other words, the army is looking to increase the distance between soldiers and the enemy, in addition to any hazardous environment, in an effort to decrease injuries and deaths. This can be accomplished through the use of reconnaissance and surveillance robots that can enter an area and send a three-dimensional picture or video back to the troops who would then use that information to strategize their best plan of attack, or through robots which would go into a building or area and report back to the troops if there are any hazardous gases or chemicals in a particular area.

I’m more interested in making those five robots as effective as ten people.”

— Mr. Pratheek Manjumath

According to Manjunath, the US Army is also concerned with and exploring the ethical use of non-human directed (autonomous) robots.

“I don’t necessarily need twenty people, I can go with five people and five robots,” Manjunath explained. “But I’m more interested in making those five robots as effective as ten people.” 

Manjunath added that this is still a distant goal, as it currently takes an average of three people to operate one robot.

The Mount group also met Colonel Christopher Korpela, the director of the Robotics Research Center at West Point. Colonel Korpela and Manjunath showed the visitors some of the senior capstone projects focused on using robots and technology in the army. 

The main goal of all of these projects was to use robots to help troops be better prepared for battle and to decrease the risk of injury. The seniors at West Point are exploring different ways to do this, including sending a drone or self-driving car to collect information, or carrying out airstrikes with drones. They are also trying to solve issues that include programming the self-driving car to react to traffic lights and pedestrians, and drones being able to carry out missions despite harsh weather conditions, like rain and wind.

Following their immersion into the senior projects, Colonel Korpela took the group on a short tour of West Point, including the dining hall and some of the barracks the students stay in. 

The Mount group was lucky enough to meet up with Mount alumna and current student at West Point, Cadet Alexis Leftwich (MSDA Class of 2017).

Leftwich spoke with the Mount students about a wide range of topics, including accountability formation, which the Mount group witnessed while on campus. Leftwich explained that before each lunch the cadets have accountability formation to make sure all are accounted for before they can go into the dining hall. Once they enter the dining hall they stand behind their seats and wait for everyone to come in before sitting down to eat. The cadets only have fifteen minutes to eat lunch.

Leftwich also explained how freshman cadets, or plebes, are not allowed to close their doors during the allotted study time. Their doors must be open at a ninety-degree angle for the entirety of the study period, as the privilege of closing your door is only for upperclassmen.

Leftwich also spoke of the intense physical requirements and tests cadets have to pass in addition to their challenging academic curriculum. Leftwich is required to take hand-to-hand combat classes, like boxing, and has to pass both land and aquatic obstacle courses. At one point, Leftwich had to swim in the Hudson River and do a series of obstacles underwater.

The West Point trip allowed me to see the amazing innovations and advancements the military is making with Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science.”

— Megan Robinson '20

The Mount students on the trip expressed that the trip was educational, inspiring, and extremely worthwhile.

“The West Point trip allowed me to see the amazing innovations and advancements the military is making with Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science,” said Megan Robinson ’20. “I also learned a lot about the Army and was able to see firsthand how AI is being utilized to keep our country safe.”

The trip opened my eyes to endless possibilities when it comes to technology.”

— Dominique Bevacqua '20

Dominique Bevacqua ’20 was especially impressed by the exposure to real-world modern technology. “The trip opened my eyes to endless possibilities when it comes to technology,” she said.

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