Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog

Doug Blank's blog

Robot Conflict

In the past, the Franklin Institute has invited us here at Bryn Mawr College to participate in demonstrations of our interesting robotics projects. We have always been very happy to take a group of robots on a nice Saturday morning in the Fall and have some fun showing kids of all ages our toys, er, I mean, "research opportunities."

However, this year I am hesitating. This year, the FI is bundling their robot demonstrations with an event called Robot Conflict. They describe it this way:

A Talk on the Philosophy of Computer Science

Bryn Mawr College Department of Philosophy, Department of Computer Science, The Center for Science in Society, and the Delaware Valley Distinguished Lecture Series in Computer Science presents:

William J. Rapaport
University at Buffalo

Title: Philosophy of Computer Science

William J. Rapaport is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, an affiliated faculty member in the Departments of Philosophy and of Linguistics, and a member of the Center for Cognitive Science, all at State University of New York at Buffalo. His research interests are in cognitive science, artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, knowledge representation and reasoning, contextual vocabulary acquisition, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, critical thinking, and cognitive development. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Subtlety of Gender Bias: robots, classrooms, and Top Chef

Here at the IPRE, we are working on developing hardware, software, and course materials based on robots for use in teaching introductory computing courses.

One aspect of the project that we are very conscious of is how the students might perceive robots in the classroom. One of our goals is to develop materials that will attract students into computing. If we use a device that some students find alienating, then we will, of course, have failed. So, we are sensitive to such perceptions, specifically those that have gender correlations.

How can one develop materials that are sensitive to gender biases? The same way that you write good software: you need to test. Feedback is the only way that you can know for certain, and then you revise and test again. We all have biases and, even when we are aware of that fact, these biases can still pop-up and have adverse affects.

iRobot Create challenge

John Billington from iRobot has just announced a robot challenge, and the winner gets $5,000!

I am writing to let the robotics and education community know that
iRobot is offering up free Create robots to students who want to enter
the iRobot Create challenge. Please let any students or interested
parties know that all they need to do is post their idea here before the
end of June:

The contest deadline to make your robot is the end of August. We are

The Philosophy of a Good Robot Assignment: Competitions in the Classroom?

One of the first ideas that comes to mind as an assignment using robots in the classroom is to have a competition. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Create a buzz on campus, get people talking about your course! Get students hooked, and engaged! Motivate them to spend some time on the subject! Sounds like you can't go wrong.

But I think that there can be problems with competitions in the classroom. However, you can tweak a competition to avoid problems. What could possibly be wrong with a good-natured, friendly competition? Of course, some students might not do well with the stress. But even beyond that, there might be subtle issues even if everyone wants to participate. Consider the following.

Japanese robot dances "spontaneously"

In the news items today is a story about a robot that dances:

Japanese robot dances "spontaneously" ( - A new Japanese robot twists and rolls to iPod tunes in an intricate dance based on complex mathematics. Technology developers convince that one day robots will move spontaneously instead of following preprogrammed motions. Equipped with Kenwood Corp. speaker systems, Tokyo-based venture ZMP Inc.'s 35-centimeter (14-inch) long Miuro robot - which looks like a white ball wedged between two halves ... [Yahoo Robot News]

Bill Gates explains Microsoft's Robotics Interests

Bill Gates stumps for robotic future - ZDNet Blogs - Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates lays out the robotic future in the cover story of January's Scientific American magazine, which has a C-3PO type robot on the cover. In the story, Gates argues that the robot industry is akin to the PC industry 30 years ago ... [MSN Robot News]

In this Scientific American cover story, Bill Gates explains some of the background to Microsoft's interests in robotics.

Surveyor SRV-1 Robot: First Impressions

In this post, I'll take a look at the SRV-1 robot from The SRV-1 Starter Kit costs $375 (additional robots are $295, and educational discounts are available). The kit comes with the robot, USB wireless connection and recharger, pictured here:

The SRV-1 is the first robot offering from Surveyor. It is tread-driven, small, and sturdy. The SRV-1 falls into a new niche in advanced robots for education and research in that it has a low-cost camera that requires no additional special hardware, except for the included USB wireless connection. In the past, if you wanted to use a camera on an autonomous robot, your choices were generally limited: you could use an onboard webcam (which required a laptop); or you needed an analog wireless connection with a special "frame capture" board.

Exploring Programming through Robot Behaviors

As we begin to explore the use of robots in an introductory computer science course (CS1), it appears that there are at least three distinct ways of creating interesting robot behaviors.

The first is what one might call the engineered approach. Using this method, one might write a control program like the following:

for n in range(4):

One might guess that this code would go forward a distance of 5 units and turn to the left 90 degrees. This is repeated 4 times, so that the robot should return to its initial position.

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