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Fort Smith Chamber golf tournament to feature robot ‘player’

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The 21st Annual Jack White Legislative Golf Tournament to be held Monday, June 16, will involve more than golfers trying to prove their skills on the course – it will involve a robot trying to do the same.

That's right. An IRB 120 robot, the brainchild of a robotics team at ABB, parent company of Fort Smith-based Baldor Electric, will be on hand at the golf tournament.

And while the robot will wow and dazzle the crowd, Baldor Marketing Vice President Tracy Long said the purpose of having the robot on hand June 16 is to highlight the partnership between Baldor and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, which announced the creation of a new robotics certification in February.

"With the help of ABB and Baldor, they are installing a whole new series of ABB robots in the McFarland Lab over in the technology building. So UAFS has really kind of moved into this next stage and understanding that there's a lot of manufacturers in town like Baldor who are using robotics now in production to improve safety and to improve productivity and to really add value to the job that we have in manufacturing plants,” Long said in a note. “And so it's a really, really cool thing that UAFS is doing and ABB and Baldor are both so excited to be part of that. So to help them celebrate and kind of share that news, ABB is loaning us this robot they've created to take out to the Chamber (of Commerce) golf tournament.”

Fred Carillo of ABB Robotics said the robot uses a few different technologies to sink the perfect put that alludes so many and further demonstrates the types of projects UAFS students can work on if they choose to pursue the robotics certificate.

First, he said the device uses "range finder technology" to locate the hole and then uses "vision technology" to locate the ball and club before eventually picking up the putter and sinking the ball in the hole.

"Based on some other things that go on that we've developed, we're utilizing some technology that is commonly used on different kinds of applications and manufacturing. And you're seeing it deployed in a rather fun way and it's great that people in the community get to see that.”

Carillo said individuals who are not involved in the manufacturing industry often assume that robots are only used in motor manufacturing or some sort of other automobile assembly. But he said companies across Arkansas are starting to use robots in everyday common activities, including packaging and casting. He said factories in Little Rock and Jonesboro are just two of several examples across the state using robots as an essential tool in the manufacturing processes.

It is for that reason that Carillo said ABB/Baldor partnered with UAFS to make sure the school had the tools it needed when it launched the program.

UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran said in February that in addition to the robot donation from Baldor, Gov. Mike Beebe had also made available $300,000 to the university to launch the program. But Beran added that the decision to go with a robotics certificate was not made "on a whim," but instead was created after much research, adding that the next closest academic robotics program was in Indiana.

Carillo said the need exists in Fort Smith and the entire state for individuals who know how to work with robots and maintain them, adding that some lower-end models can be purchased for as cheap as $25,000, making it far more feasible for local manufacturers than even just five years ago.

And that's why Long said the public needs to make itself aware of the role robots play in the economy today and will continue to play in the economy as time goes on.

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"It's really becoming a critical component for manufacturing and there's so much manufacturing that goes on in Arkansas, that we are seeing the need for the students to come out and become part of our teams who can support this type of manufacturing process. And that's why we're so proud of the university for offering another set of skills for students that are going to walk out and have something that we're looking for right now.”

The tournament will start at 1 p.m. with a shotgun start, according to Director of Operations Tamara Fitzpatrick of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. Long said the robot is expected to be set up along the first nine greens.

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