This story is one of a series of profiles of 2012 graduates. See all senior profiles for this year here.
Adam Iseman has been building gadgets for years, from a model of the neuron structure of a scorpion’s brain to a device that simulates human hearing. Of all his projects, though, Iseman is most proud of the robotic swarm that he and three other engineering students showcased at the Cornell Cup at Disney World earlier this month.
The robotic swarm, which was also the group’s senior design project, deploys four navigator robots—called grunts—which collectively scan any surface for hazardous materials and report back to the main robot. The main robot then reports whether or not the surface is safe.
“It was just really cool to see my original idea actually implemented and working,” Iseman, an electrical engineering major, said. “I was really proud of that.”
Iseman’s group applied for the Cornell Cup earlier this year and was one of 15 teams to be accepted. The four students were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World to present the robot, and they ultimately earned an honorable mention.
The robotic swarm has its roots in Iseman’s upbringing in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he was first exposed to constructing gadgets in his high school shop class. Iseman took several industrial design classes, and some of the toolkits he used in his shop class ended up in the swarm, mainly in the machinery used to mobilize the grunts.
“I’d just hang out in the shop and build robots after school,” he said.
Iseman was not initially interested in attending college in New York City because his two sisters had bad experiences at Fordham and New York University. However, he liked that Columbia offered a liberal arts education through the Core Curriculum, and that—along with a taste of New York pizza—compelled him to enroll in Columbia.
“It sort of sucks when they’re making you take it,” Iseman said, referring to the Core. “But the different ways that you learn and the different things that you learn, rather than being strictly locked in as a technical person, really intrigued me about Columbia.”
In addition to building robots, Iseman plays chess and was the captain of the ultimate frisbee team, which he described as a positive change of pace from wrestling in high school. He was also a member of the Columbia Bartending Agency for four years.
“Even before I was even allowed to drink, I was serving people,” he said.
After graduation, Iseman will head west to Seattle to work as a test engineer at Boeing, where he held an internship last summer. At Boeing, he will design systems that monitor the individual components of airplanes.