Virtual robots and long-distance expertise

Virtual robots and long-distance expertise

The pandemic has brought incredible challenges to everyone but also sparked some new opportunities. This fall through Zoom, Middle and High School robotics club and MS computer science club students got to meet three university-level researchers doing artificial intelligence work:

Robotics education harnesses the power of science, technology, engineering, and math, while also offering students and faculty exciting opportunities to problem-solve and innovate in a field that is becoming increasingly important in the labor market. The hands-on effort and creativity required to understand key concepts mirrors the Deweyan philosophy of experiential education that is at the heart of Lab's mission. Since Lab's extracurricular robotics program launched in 2015, participation and state-level competition has grown by the year. The formal Middle School Robotics Club started in 2016 and the High School club in 2018.

Pre-pandemic, students working at Asst. Professor Walter's robotics Lab at Toyota Technological Institute.

"Last year," says Lab computer science teacher Jeremy Schwartz, "we received donor funds through an Innovation Grant to start a collaboration with UChicago Asst. Professor Matthew Walter's robotics lab at Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago on the UChicago campus." This year, Walter helped Lab coordinate the age-appropriate lectures.

About the lecturers, Middle Schooler Maxine Huang says, "I thought it was pretty cool that it was women who were really advanced in their field, making interesting discoveries. They broke it down pretty well. Each used diagrams to help explain, in simple terms, what was happening and they played videos so you could see examples."

Unable to meet in person, Maxine and her teammates have been practicing coding and robotics online using a tool called CoderZ. Explains Maxine, "You use block coding and there is a virtual Lego Mindstorm EV3 robot--like the kind we usually use at school. So you can play your code and the virtual robot will do what you coded it to do."