SAN JOSE, Calif. A new academic group at Georgia Institute of Technology will design personal robots for use in education, claiming that robotics is about to enter the equivalent of the PC era in computing. The effort is partly motivated by a desire to address a nationwide downturn in computer science enrollment.
The Institute for Personal Robotics in Education (IPRE) is working on a small wheeled robot and a robotic arm with a video camera to pump up interest in its entry-level computer science courses. It also plans to design robots for use in secondary, and maybe even primary schools.
"We want to bring robots into computer science courses to make them more exciting and effective," said Tucker Balch, an associated professor at Georgia Tech and the director of IPRE. "Computer science enrollment is generally declining. After the dotcom bust it seems computer science is not cool anymore," he said.
Microsoft announced it will donate $1 million over three years to help establish the Institute which is co-sponsored by Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. The two universities will also kick in $1 million to launch IPRE which will be based on Georgia Tech's Atlanta campus.
The software giant initiated the process by inviting eight universities to compete for the $1 million investment in robotics. Georgia Tech won over Microsoft with its proposal for providing students with their own personal robot.
The concept of personal robots has seen mixed fortunes to date. Boston-based iRobot has garnered some success with its Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. However, Sony has pulled its $1,700 Aibo entertainment robot from the market.
Nevertheless, Balch is a firm believer in the advent of personal robots for many industries.
"All the pieces exist today, driven by cellphones and laptops," Balch said. "Five years ago we didn't have the battery power density, the low power, high performance processors, the high reliability motors or the low power high bandwidth wireless networks that exist today," he added.