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Microsoft, Ga Tech, Bryn Mawr Create Robotics Institute

Photonics.com
Jul 2006
REDMOND, Wash., July 12, 2006 -- In a move designed to boost enrollment and retention in college computer science classes, Microsoft Corp. announced today the creation of the Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE) in partnership with Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr College.

The institute is designed to reinvigorate computer science curriculum by delivering robotics technology tailored for teaching purposes, scientifically evaluated for its effectiveness in live teaching situations. A tenet of their proposal is that every student should have his or her own personal robot. These small, mobile robots -- to be made available at university bookstores, shrink-wrapped with a textbook -- will be inexpensive and dependable, and will take advantage of a student's desktop computer to develop, debug and run programs that control the robot, Microsoft said.

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Artist's concept of a personal robot for education (Image: Institute for Personal Robots in Education)

Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr were among eight US schools with strong track records in educational robotics that wer invited by Microsoft to participate in a request for proposals for the partnership. Microsoft will provide the College of Computing at Georgia Tech with $1 million over three years to develop practical new ways to bring robotics technology into the computer science curriculum. An additional $1 million for the institute will be provided by the Georgia Tech College of Computing and Bryn Mawr,  where IPRE is associated with its computer science department.

"We want to use the power of robotics to capture the imagination of tomorrow's computer scientists," said Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft. "By introducing exciting new technologies into the computer-science curriculum, we believe that we'll greatly increase its appeal -- especially to students who may not have considered majoring in this field."

Microsoft and more than 7000 of its industry partners are gathering in Boston this week at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2006 to learn how software and services can build business opportunities. Today's announcement comes less than a month after Microsoft released a community technology preview (CTP) of its new Microsoft Robotics Studio software for creating robotic applications. It said the IPRE will use the software as a core technology. 

"Robotics is showing up in increasingly varied walks of life, from industrial manufacturing and home appliances to healthcare for the elderly, toys and entertainment -- even in toxic and dangerous search-and-rescue scenarios," Microsoft said in a statement. "Yet many computer science students' studies in robotics are hampered by devices that are difficult to use or not rugged enough; devices that are suitable for classroom use are too often prohibitively expensive. To more fully realize the potential of robotics in computer science, classroom robots need to be made more accessible, affordable and easy to use for both students and professors."

The College of Computing at Georgia Tech's curriculum development plan also includes use of a new version of Pyro, a leading educational robotics software platform, integrated with Robotics Studio. This approach is expected to significantly reduce the cost of learning to program robots and make robotics more accessible to students because it has been adapted to both simulation platforms and real mobile robots.

"Bryn Mawr's involvement in this partnership introduces the ideas and problems in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to a very different set of students from the traditional engineering types that have worked on those problems over the past 50 years," said Deepak Kumar, chair of the department of Computing at Bryn Mawr. "As a result, I think we will see some very different and amazing solutions to these kinds of problems."

The Institute for Personal Robots in Education will begin developing its technology and education immediately, with educational programs beginning in January 2007. The resulting materials will be made available widely to the academic community, Microsoft said.

For more information, visit: www.roboteducation.org


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