Oct 262009
Authors: Vince Crespin

For mechanical engineering graduate student Greg Schroll, designing and creating mechanical appliances has been a passion and a hobby since age eight.

However, it is his newest creation that has major mechanical institutions such as Popular Mechanics singing the 23-year-old’s praise.

The invention that has the mechanical world buzzing is Schroll’s adaptations to what is known as a spherical robot. The invention was a ball with a component within it to make it move sideways, forward and backward before Schroll adapted it.

But, there was one critical limitation to the device: It could not travel well up steep inclines.

Schroll’s idea fixed this.

“What I came up with is a way to store momentum within the ball and be able to choose when to expend it,” the CSU mechanical engineering graduate student said. “So while the robot is moving around doing other things, it has wheels turning within it that are building momentum.”

“When a large incline needs to be scaled, you can then choose when to have the stored momentum released giving it added torque, or a boost to make it up hills and such.”

Schroll said that with some more work over the next few years and added refinements, his robot’s technology could be applicable to many different things but sees its best potential use by the military. The spherical robot, he said, with incline-climbing capability, can be used in military intelligence missions, locating injured personnel on a battlefield or even some day planetary exploration.

While Schroll’s breakthrough is an expansion of a previous invention, he has always had some intrigue regarding mechanics. But spherical robots have always struck a chord with Schroll.

/”When I was younger, I was a defenseman on my soccer team. I didn’t get the ball very much, so I would daydream a about inventing some way to control the ball with a remote,” he said. “So this idea has always intrigued me and been in the back of my mind.”

As a young child in New Jersey before his soccer days, Schroll showed great promise even before his age reached double digits, said Ken Schroll, Greg’s father.

“I remember we used to give him Lego sets before he even reached elementary school, and he would complete them. By the age of eight, we would give him the advanced sets with motors and remotes, and he would finish those in about one day.”

Young Schroll only continued to impress when in high school, where he engineered an air pressurized canon and a beverage cooling device that was capable of taking a room temperature drink to refrigerator-level temperatures in only two minutes.

He then continued onto the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his undergraduate in mechanical engineering and further decided his career aspirations.

Schroll said that once he finds a project that intrigues him, that is all he needs to stay motivated.

“Once I get fascinated by something, I just decide I am going to finish it, and for me. That’s the fun of it.”

David Alciatore, associate professor in the department of mechanics and Schroll’s graduate school research advisor, was impressed with Schroll from the first time the two had met. Schroll worked as Alcitore’s teacher’s assistant after starting at CSU.

Schroll’s ideas and adjustments to the spherical robot are under review for a patent, which is something Alciatore is confident in that Scroll will receive.

As a 19-year professor of mechanics at CSU, Alciatore has worked with many students. However, Schroll, like his robot, is unique, Alciatore said, and can do things others similar to him can’t.

/”The robot has the ability through gyroscopic wheels to get a burst of motion and remove itself from holes or climb hills, which makes it unique,”/Alciatore said, but it’s Schroll’s upbringing and surroundings that make him a top-tier student.

“I have seen a few students like him, with great talent, but he is definitely in the top 1 percent of students I have seen,” he said. “However, everything I just mentioned makes it so there are not many, if any, like him.”

Scroll says his goal is to start his own engineering company, through which he can make his inventions more applicable through further research and development while still creating new items.

Even with his early success and recognition from prominent engineering sources Schroll remains grounded, stating his early success is still somewhat limited.

“The robot itself still has a lot of work before it can become really helpful. I myself am still just a student and have a ways to go before I can do exactly what I am planning. I have always known that this is what I wanted to do; I am just happy to be doing what fascinates me,” Schroll says.

Staff writer Vince Crespin can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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