When you think of Brazil, the Amazon rain forest, soccer, and the upcoming Olympic Games come to mind.
The government there wants you to think of STEM education, too. That’s why Brazil is paying for undergraduate college students to spend the summer at universities in the United States. They call it Science Without Borders, and right now, there are six Brazilian students working at FIU’s Discovery Lab.
"The program is designed to give them a research experience, where they actually have hands-on use of tools, equipment, and can put their innovative ideas into practice," said Jerry Miller, director of the Discovery Lab.
The Brazilian students are divided between engineering and computer science majors. They’re all trying to create innovations in robotics, and they say FIU offers them an experience they can’t get at home.
"To use their knowledge and creativity to create new things so this is where they can do it, they can learn here, they can make mistakes here,” said Gregory Reis, a doctoral student in engineering at FIU who happens to be Brazilian and is mentoring the visiting students.
One team is designing a drone programmed with artificial intelligence, equipped with sensors and cameras, so it could fly over a farmer’s field and detect exactly which areas need more or less fertilizer or irrigation. There are commercial drones that do similar things, but they're expensive. The goal here is to make one which would sell for about $200.
Another fascinating application the students are working on is using robots in a way that most people have never considered: using robots to teach autistic children.
"Research has shown that when we use robots and computers assisting the therapists in these therapies, the children respond better to it," explained Leticia Domingues, one of the Science Without Borders students.
They’re trying to find ways to improve the robots that are already being used for autism therapy.
"They’re making great progress and we’re just very excited to have them here," Miller said.
Students in the Discovery Lab aren’t just doing research, the goal here is to actually make something tangible.
"Hopefully, we teach a little entrepreneurship as we go along so we can try to get some of their ideas patented and get them moving into business and industry," Miller said.
Robotics, computer programs, machines are all driven by human creativity. The Brazilian government has made a sound decision by investing in that human capital.