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Personal Robots:

An Impactful Context for
Introductory CS Education


Prof. Tucker Balch, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Stewart Tansley, Microsoft Research

Prof. Doug Blank, Bryn Mawr College

Dr. Jay Summet, Georgia Institute of Technology


Deepak Kumar, Mark Guzdial, Keith O’Hara, Daniel Walker, Jared Jackson,
Gaurav Gupta, Monica Sweat



The Institute for Personal Robots in Education

IPRE Overview

Mission:


Make education more fun and effective
through the use of
personal robots
.

Audience: All levels, from middle
school to graduate school.



Joint effort hosted at Georgia Tech with
Bryn Mawr (+ MSR).


3 year seed funding provided by Microsoft
Research.


Special ingredient and hypothesis:

a
personal robot

for every student
programmer

IPRE: Lead Institutions

Georgia Institute of Technology

Tier 1 research university.

15,000 students.

Mostly male.

Bryn Mawr College

Liberal arts college near Philadelphia, founded in
1885.

1200 undergraduate women, 400 graduate students
(co
-
ed).

New program begun in 2000 in CS offers BA in
Computer Science, minor in CS, and minor in
Computational Methods.


First Target: Introductory CS

Why this target?


Importance:

Declining undergraduate CS enrollment.
No one to fill jobs; loss of intellectual capital. Can CS be
more appealing?


Relevance:

Robots are a compelling platform for
explaining process (the essence of computing).


Impact:

Introductory CS is a required or encouraged
course for many students.

Example: How Context Can Help

1999: Intro CS required for all degrees
at Georgia Tech = ~2000 students
every year.


Success rate:

Women: 61% passed

Men: 72% passed

Non
-
CS Majors: 50% passed

Example: How Context Can Help

2003, A new approach: Media context.





Success rate improved:

Women: 88% passed

Men: 84% passed

Non
-
CS Majors: 86% passed

MSR for IPRE


Microsoft Research


Founded 1991


800 researchers, 55 research areas, 6 labs


800 interns in 2007


3500 peer
-
reviewed papers to date


External Research


university partnerships:


Science


http://microsoft.com/science



Computer Science


http://research.microsoft.com/ur



Research + Education



Microsoft & Robotics


MSRS announced summer 2006


v1.5 available today, $0 until you sell robots


“A Robot In Every Home”


Scientific American, Jan 2007/Feb 2008


http://microsoft.com/robotics

Personal Robots for CS:
Components of the Approach

1.
A
personal

robot.

2.
Approachable software/programming environment.

3.
An engaging curriculum.

4.
Quantitative assessment.


Philosophy: The curriculum drives the design of the robot,
software, and text.

Engage the community.

A Robot for CS Education

Note: This is not
robotics

research.

Personal: Every student with her
own robot.

No labs with expensive robots.

Instead: Inexpensive robots in the
campus bookstore.

Reliable: No mystery regarding
“does it work?”

Break the compile
-
download
-
run
cycle.

Leverage the desktop.

?

IPRE “Pilot” Robot: $195

3 Light sensors

2 IR sensors

2 Line sensors

Stall sensor

Speaker

3 LEDs

2 motors

Bluetooth wireless


IPRE Pilot Robot v2: $149.95

256x192 color camera

Raw images (0.5 HZ)

On board color segmentation
(6 HZ)

Battery voltage sensing

Very bright

rear facing LED

I
2
C extension port

IR emitters and receiver

Obstacle/Wall detection

Inter
-
Robot Communication

IPRE Gyro: $120

Software for CS Education

Myro: My Robot.

Focus on learnability

HAPI


Human
-
Application Programming
Interface

Pedagogically scalable


easy for first
-
time
users, yet powerful and flexible for more
advanced users

Phase 1 is Python
-
centric, platform
agnostic.

Follow on language agnostic.

Software Stack


Myro Software

Sample Program (Python)

def

main
():


while

True
:


Left, Right = getIR()



if

Left:


turnRight(turnSpeed)


elif

Right:


turnLeft(turnSpeed)


else
:


forward(cruiseSpeed)

# Avoiding Obstacles


from

myro

import

*

initialize(ask(
“What port?”
))


# program settings...

cruiseSpeed = 0.6

turnSpeed = 0.5


Example Test Question

Assume you have routines:

TurnLeft90()

TurnRight90()

GoForwardOneFoot()

Write the code that would
cause a robot to follow the
illustrated path.

2 ft

1 ft

1 ft

Sample Assignment

Corral Exiting/Escape


Imagine a corral (an enclosed
area with maze like partitions
and an entrance) with a light
source at the entrance (as
shown in the figure to the
right). Given the robot's
position, can we design a
behavior that will enable the
robot to exit the corral?

CS1 Text (Chapter Outline)

Chapter 1 The World of Robots

Chapter 2 Robots: Personal or Otherwise

Chapter 3 Building Brains

Chapter 4 Sensing the World

Chapter 5 Making Decisions

Chapter 6 Behaviors

Chapter 7 Control Paradigms

Chapter 8 Making Music

Chapter 9 Communication

Chapter 10 Computing & Computation

Chapter 11 Artificial Intelligence

Chapter 12 Robots in the World

Data Collection and Assessment


Population to date:


At Georgia Tech

2 “traditional” CS
-
1 courses

4 “robot” CS
-
1 courses


At Bryn Mawr:

2 “robot” CS
-
1 courses


Fall 2008:

Roll out at up to 8 additional institutions.

The Course at GT


Video

Video

BMC Pilot Course


Spring 2007

24 students (22 women, 2 men)

Learned CS concepts through robots.

Robots made learning experience more hands
-
on,
tangible, and exciting.

Most frustrating parts were dealing with robot hardware
inconsistencies.

Viewed CS as a type of logic and problem solving;
requiring patience & thought.

Discovered that CS and robots are applicable to the real
world.

BMC Pilot Courses

Liked the use of personal robots


Did not like quirky issues with Scribblers


Learned programming and problem
solving (as opposed to just robotics)

> 90% success rate among CS majors.

Students felt that the course was focused on
computer science, not on robotics.

The frustrations in the course were mostly
about the robot: Under
-
featured, difficult to
maintain.

No significant difference in success/failure
rates from robotics vs. non
-
robotics sections
(Spring 2007; still assessing Fall 2008).

GT Initial Results

Yes!


Textbook is jointly edited by wiki

Myro is under BSD license

Hardware specs, firmware, etc will be
published

That’s Great But is it “Open”

Want a robot?

www.roboteducation.org

Video