Dr. Benji Maruyama, an esteemed researcher at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), is on a mission to democratize and revolutionize science education using open-source autonomous experimentation software. Maruyama and his team are collaborating with industry and academia to bring their Educational ARES OS (Autonomous Research Experimentation System) to public school classrooms nationwide, nurturing the next generation of young scientists.
Educational ARES OS
Educational ARES OS is a self-driving research platform that seamlessly integrates automated robotics with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. This groundbreaking software conducts experiments independently, records results, and devises the next steps to address research questions or solve problems. It builds upon the success of the original ARES open-source software introduced in 2021, which is available for free download to the public.
AI research robots for all
Maruyama emphasizes the importance of making AI research robots accessible at a low cost to support AFRL’s ambitious goal of expanding research efforts exponentially. He firmly believes that science should be inclusive and accessible to everyone, starting from a young age. By introducing students to autonomous experimentation early, ideally by middle school, Maruyama hopes to shatter the perception that science is exclusive or unattainable for certain individuals, ultimately leading to a more diverse scientific community.
Empowering educators with AI
One of the key objectives of the Educational ARES OS project is to empower educators with the tools they need to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) effectively. By providing a complete curriculum aligned with state standards, Maruyama aims to alleviate the burden on teachers, particularly those in underfunded school districts. The goal is to enable educators to seamlessly integrate autonomous experimentation into their classrooms, enhancing the learning experience for students.
Affordable DIY robotics
Maruyama’s vision extends beyond software; it includes hardware accessibility. With a budget of approximately $300, a schoolteacher can assemble their own ARES-enabled autonomous 3D printer using readily available components. Maruyama and his colleagues have even published an open-access article detailing the calibration of a low-cost fused deposition modeling 3D printer system, making the hardware aspect accessible and affordable.
Leading the way in STEM education
Dr. Kristofer Reyes, an assistant professor of applied mathematics at the University of Buffalo, is at the forefront of integrating Educational ARES OS into STEM education. His efforts include establishing a self-driving autonomous experimentation lab, set to open in January 2024. This lab will offer one of the first educational programs to leverage Maruyama’s ARES OS software, bridging computer science, machine learning, and materials science applications in undergraduate courses.
Metamaterial study and beyond
Reyes envisions students using the lab and ARES software to engage in metamaterial study, printing precise scale models of materials and optimizing their structures based on specific properties. Educational ARES OS simplifies complex projects and lowers the barriers for students and educators, making STEM more approachable.
Community partnerships and expanding reach
Dr. Emily Fehrman Cory, a principal consultant at Dayton-based Airship Consulting and former AFRL employee, is actively working to transition Educational ARES into the classroom. Collaborating with local institutions like the University of Dayton, Cory aims to make ARES STEM programming accessible to schools. Her efforts include developing cost-effective packaging to provide schools with both hardware and software solutions.
At the University of Dayton, students are taking the lead in implementing Educational ARES OS. Undergraduate students participating in the Stitt Scholar Program are working on developing curriculum and resources for STEM summer camps and courses. They are also conducting market research to identify cost-effective 3D printer components to create affordable kits for teachers.
Breaking down barriers to STEM education
Maruyama acknowledges that teachers already face significant workloads and may not have the time to design their own autonomous experimentation curriculum. Educational ARES OS aims to provide not only the robotic platform but also a comprehensive curriculum aligned with state standards, making it easier for teachers to introduce autonomous experimentation into their classrooms.
A vision for augmented science
As AI and robotics continue to advance, Maruyama sees them as tools to augment, rather than replace, human researchers. He believes that by automating tedious aspects of research, young scientists will be free to focus on innovation and discovery, ultimately revitalizing interest in STEM fields and retaining talent in the scientific community.
Maruyama’s commitment to advancing AI-driven research and making science accessible has earned him recognition as a Materials Research Society (MRS) fellow. His pioneering efforts in AI and autonomous experimentation have laid the foundation for a future where humans and technology collaborate to push the boundaries of scientific discovery.