Tag Archives: Robotics

Parenting for Technology Futures

Illah Nourbakhsh was in high school when the first Texas Instruments scientific calculator came on the scene. The device, whose predecessor is now commonplace in math classes, was a huge boon to education—and it sparked a new debate on appropriate technology use in the classroom.

A few decades later, the implications of integrating digital technology into education are much broader. Whereas the calculator was simply an efficiency tool, digital technology today has the potential to positively transform social interactions and interdisciplinary learning. Meanwhile, concerns regarding digital privacy and appropriate digital technology use have grown.

Photo/Ben Filio

In his book “Robot Futures,” Nourbakhsh acknowledged the inevitable rise of robotics, and he wrote that society has to act fast to harness the technology’s immense power and use it for social good. The professor of robotics and director of CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University has just published a second book, “Parenting for Technology Futures.” In it, as he did in “Robot Futures,” Nourbakhsh recognizes the advent of digital education as certain and full of opportunities for new kinds of learning. But he advises parents to ask, “How do I give my child the best possible preparation for a post-human future powered by technology?”

Kids, the author warns, are at risk of becoming passive “techno-consumers.” Adults in their lives should “prepare our children so well that they influence the robot future.”

Technology’s rapid rise has created a rift between youth and their adult mentors, Nourbakhsh claims. “The gap has to close,” he told Remake Learning. “The only way our children will be competitive in a hyper-technical future is if parents and teachers work together with children, as a unified team, to create the best possible circumstances for learning and personal empowerment starting right at birth.”

Although “Parenting for Technology Futures” is aimed at parents, the book is a good primer for anyone interested in the best use of technology in both formal and informal education, or in the role adult mentors can play in young learners’ lives. Nourbakhsh reminds readers that children spend only 20 percent of their waking hours at school, so it’s crucial to explore opportunities for learning during nonschool hours.

“You cannot depend on school as a first introduction to the joy of learning and discovery,” he writes.

Throughout the book, Nourbakhsh cautions against blindly embracing what he calls “silo STEM.” Many schools are heavily propping up the STEM disciplines and consequently sacrificing fields that involve more communication and creativity, he explains. As a technologist himself, he does not discredit the value of STEM or ignore our dire shortage of students prepared for careers in the field. Instead, he criticizes the view that each STEM discipline is an autonomous entity most valuable when pursued to the exclusion of other fields.

“The inspiration to bring knowledge from multiple disciplines together to solve any problem confidently will always have value,” Nourbakhsh writes. “STEM has already morphed in many circles into STEAM—this is a healthy move because it incorporates Arts back into the family of core learning sensibilities, where it belongs.”

Nourbakhsh’s accessible book is packed with these kinds of thoughtful musings on the future of technology and learning, as well as with online resources and practical suggestions for those in the thick of it. He praises the “gamification” of education and business, citing the immediate feedback, healthy competition, and social interaction facilitated by games-based learning. He tells parents to let their kids take them on a “digital tour” of the devices and games they use. Kids will feel proud of their technological prowess, and adults will be brought out of the dark.

Having worked with a range of students himself, Nourbakhsh sympathizes with the adults who are simply overwhelmed by the range of digital tools on the market. When picking an educational product, “ignore the business hype and focus on the track record,” he advises. And be conscious of scale; what might be right for an individual at home might not work in the classroom.

Nourbakhsh’s CREATE Lab is a testament to the benefits of hands-on, collaborative digital learning. At CREATE Lab, kids and scientists alike are encouraged to use technology to further pursue their passions and to discover new areas of interest. The aim is to foster community-minded technologists. Whenever possible, the organization makes its creations available to local people and partners. Past projects include the BowGo, an expertly engineered pogo stick that jumps up to 4 feet in the air; Can Pals, a modernized tin-can telephone with which kids can record stories that others can listen and respond to; and Energize Haiti, which brought energy-monitoring software to a hospital and energy-generating equipment to a playground.

Nourbakhsh knows that technology is a powerful and often daunting force. In his books, he lays out clear steps kids and adults can take together to become agents, not victims, of change. When employed wisely, digital tools can be extraordinary catalysts for collaboration and creative growth.

A Future in Science

Testing bookmarks
Concerned about the global food crisis, Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey, and Sophie Healy-Thow were compelled to study the impact of bacteria on crop growth.

Their findings—that naturally occurring strains of certain bacteria could significantly speed up crop growth and increase crop yield—may certainly contribute to the fight against global hunger.

The research is impressive even without considering that Judge, Hickey, and Healy-Thow are just 16 years old.

The three teenagers from Ireland won the Grand Prize at the fourth-annual Google Science Fair, whose results were announced this fall. As Grand Prize winners, the teens will share a $50,000 Google scholarship and receive a 10-day trip to the Galápagos Islands sponsored by National Geographic, a personalized LEGO prize from LEGO Education, and the chance to participate in astronaut training at the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in the Mojave Desert.

Thousands of students ages 13 to 18 from more than 90 countries submitted entries by the May deadline to the 2014 Google Science Fair, an online science competition for solo entrants and teams of up to three people. After whittling down the contestants to 18 finalists in early August, a panel of judges assessed student presentations at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters in September to determine the overall winner and standouts in several categories.

Among other amazing inventions created by teens: a flying robot for potential use in search-and-rescue missions; sand filters designed to filter toxic substances from pond water; and low-cost wearable sensors designed for Alzheimer’s patients that alert caregivers via smartphone when the wearer gets out of bed and begins to wander.

The Google competition, however, cannot claim a monopoly on impressive young scientists. We’ve got plenty of them right here in Pittsburgh, including 17-year-old Ananya Cleetus—a student at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh—who made headlines with her invention, a robotic prosthetic hand, which she brought to the 2014 White House Science Fair in late May.

Her project was inspired by summer visits to her grandparents’ home in India. While volunteering there and touring the Jaipur Foot foundation, a nonprofit that develops artificial limbs, she realized the critical need for low-cost artificial limbs for amputees—especially those affected by the stigmatizing disease leprosy.

Internships at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Laboratories and the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, as well as experience in competitive robotics, gave her the background she needed to develop her own solution to the problem. Using materials from the Robotics Institute along with Arduino sensors she purchased, Cleetus designed a robotic control system for a 3-D MakerBot-printed hand created from InMoov open-source computer-aided design files.


Cleetus hopes the affordable robotic hand she developed will increase the accessibility of effective prosthetics. In that spirit, she has decided not to seek a patent for her invention.

Although she still has a few years to decide on a profession, Cleetus sees a promising future in biomedical engineering. “It’s a good combination of science and technology,” she said. “As much as I like other fields of science, I enjoy seeing the impact science has on other people.”

Helping STEM Learning Take Root Outside the Classroom

Back in the dark ages—as in, the ’70s and ’80s—a typical afterschool routine might have involved heading home for a snack and an episode of “Scooby Doo.” Today a Pittsburgh teen is more likely to fire up her laptop and engage in a multiplayer game with other online gamers as far away as Tokyo or Dubai, or to construct intricate cities on his iPad using Minecraft.

Boosted by this vital extracurricular learning, those gamers could grow up to be the next Marissa Mayer or Steve Jobs.

But the disparity in access to digital technology leaves many kids in the dust, lagging behind watching reruns of old cartoons. A February 2013 report by the Pew Research Center found that “More than half (54%) [of the 2,462 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers surveyed for the report] say all or almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools at school, but only a fifth of these teachers (18%) say all or almost all of their students have access to the digital tools they need at home.”

Enter afterschool programs. They can help bridge that gap, according to a recent issue brief from the Afterschool Alliance, with support from the Noyce Foundation. The brief details how afterschool programs can help contribute to nationwide STEM education goals, especially in high-demand skill areas such as computer programming and engineering.

If you’re imagining a community center where teens play ping-pong and shoot hoops, think again. 

According to the report, “Afterschool STEM programs are proving to be highly effective and they deliver important outcomes. Youth in high-quality afterschool STEM programs show (1) improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers; (2) increased STEM capacities and skills; and (3) a higher likelihood of graduation and pursuing a STEM career.”

Why is STEM important? Because that’s where the jobs are. According to a 2012 update from the US Department of Commerce, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that STEM jobs will continue growing at a fast clip relative to other occupations: 17.0 percent between 2008–2018 (BLS’ most recent projection), compared to just 9.8 percent for non-STEM jobs.”

The most effective afterschool programs offer rigorous STEM learning opportunities and reach marginalized populations. If you’re imagining a community center where teens play ping-pong and shoot hoops, think again. Students in these innovative programs are more likely to be found designing basketball simulators using the latest computer modeling equipment.

The winner of the 2013 Afterschool STEM Impact Awards, for example, enlists middle school students in applied science research projects. Participants in Santa Fe­, New Mexico-based Project GUTS—Growing Up Thinking Scientifically—engage in computational thinking to design and test computer models of real-world issues.

Another program mentioned in the report, Techbridge, reaches girls in underserved communities in Oakland, California, with hands-on programming in technology, engineering, and science. Afterschool program participants might solder a solar nightlight, design a computer animation project, or build a remotely operated vehicle. In August 2013 the program won a $2.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand its afterschool programs to more cities across the country. Programs such as Techbridge do double duty—helping to close the gender gap in STEM fields while addressing income disparity in STEM learning opportunities.

Closer to home, at Crafton Elementary near Pittsburgh—part of the Carlynton School District—afterschool learning takes place in a dedicated STEAM Studio. There, students use high-tech tools such as K’NEX, snap circuits, and iPads to extend classroom projects or explore their own interests.

BotsIQ, another member of the Kids+Creativity Network, engages around 600 students from more than 40 schools in southwestern Pennsylvania in an annual robotics competition. After grappling with a rigorous robotics curriculum, BotsIQ-ers guide 15-pound robots to face off in a gladiator-style competition.

Zoinks. It’s hard to imagine Scooby and his crew tackling anything like that.


Photo / Scott Beale – Laughing Squid

PA Kids Win Federal Grant for Early Learning

The first day of kindergarten is a milestone in any kid’s life. And while it might look like the antsy, bouncy kindergartners who fill a first-day classroom are all starting off on the same page, research shows that a startling gap already exists between low-income kids and their more advantaged peers. An Annie E. Casey Foundation report finds that this learning gap starts well before school does. It’s evident as early as 9 months, in fact, when research shows a gap in cognitive development between babies in low-income and higher-income families. And these early differences in cognitive skills compound as kids go through school and even into adult life, as kids with low school readiness can get stuck in a perpetual game of catch up.

As a Brookings report notes, children with high levels of school readiness at age 5 “are generally more successful in grade school, are less likely to drop out of high school, and earn more as adults, even after adjusting for differences in family background.”

Closing this gap right from starting gate is the one of the aims of the federal government’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, which announced a total of $280 million in grants to Pennsylvania and five other states last month.

Part of Pennsylvania’s $51.7 million grant will go towards creating 50 “community innovation zones.” These zones will serve the lowest performing elementary schools in the state with the goal of boosting family supports and strengthening relationships between early childhood education programs, school districts, and networks of community organizations. It will also fund high-quality professional development for early learning educators.

The Race to the Top grant is an exciting development for the state’s early learning system, but several Pittsburgh organizations have been hard at work serving youngsters and their families long before the state’s win.

The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, or PAEYC, supports care and education for kids from birth until age 9 by providing professional development, community resources, and advocacy. PAEYC also looks for creative ways to promote digital literacy in early childhood education. It recently partnered with the CREATE Lab and the Children’s School of Carnegie Mellon University to create Message From Me, a project that places small, hands-on kiosks equipped with microphones, video cameras, and email into classrooms. These let kids ages 3 to 5 send recorded messages about their school days to their parents.

“The technology is great,” Michelle Figlar, who leads PAEYC, told Remake Learning last October. “But the goal of the project—to increase communication among parents, teachers, and young children and improve language development—is what’s primary. Especially in very low-income neighborhoods, where we know from the research that learning vocabulary is very important—that is a beautiful way of using technology.”

Like Figlar noted, vocabulary is a critical aspect of the school readiness gap. An often-cited study published in the 1990s observed 42 families across different socioeconomic backgrounds and found kids from low-income families heard about 30 million fewer words than their higher-income peers by age 3. The kids’ language skills at 3 predicted their skills through when they were 9 and 10.

“Once children become independent and can speak for themselves, they gain access to more opportunities for experience,” wrote the study’s authors. “But the amount and diversity of children’s past experience influences which new opportunities for experience they notice and choose.”

A summer project from the Kingsley Association, Baby Promise, introduces parents and their young kids to new experiences with technology and familiarizes them with how technology can be used meaningfully for learning. The project offers instructional home visits for kids ages birth to age 3 and summer day camps for kids 3 to 6. Like Message From Me, tech is a key component of the Baby Promise project, but more important are the connections educators make with parents well before their kids are enrolled in school.

Carnegie Science Center is also to exposing young kids to experiences with meaningful technology. The Center’s Hello, Robo! program brings a full set of kid-friendly robotics to 132 Head Start preschool classrooms. (Head Start is a federal program that promotes school readiness for kids from low-income families.) The program also includes visits from Carnegie Science Center staff, who spark kids’ curiosity about the kid-programmable, bumblebee-shaped robots.

Learning begins much earlier than the first day of kindergarten. Ensuring kids start school with a good footing, through both Race to the Top initiatives and the work of Pittsburgh organizations, will help them start school with the skills they need to stay on track for a secure economic future.


Photo/ Sarah Gilbert

Young Makers Score a Home Run for Hands-on Learning

As part of the Rookie of the Gear project, summer visitors to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum Makeshop constructed a working, 12-foot tall pitching machine. On September 1, the machine made its major league debut by throwing the first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Three of the contraption’s young designers got to stand on the field at PNC Park, pirate hats and all, to watch their concept—once just ideas on paper–hurl the first ball.

Earlier this summer, kids drew designs for their dream pitching machine then helped build an actual catapult at Makeshop in the following weeks. Then as a test run, the machine tossed water balloons at the Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire before finally heading to the pitching mound.

Rookie of the Gear was a summer-long project through the Makeshop at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. Makeshop is an open space within the museum for kids and their families to tinker, build, and create amazing things. From birdhouses to stop-motion animations, Makeshop embraces kids’ natural instinct to learn by doing. It lets them problem solve and explore their creative urges with various materials like wood, textiles, and electronics. The space has all sorts of awesome tools and museum staff on hand to help out.

Designing and constructing the pitching machine was a perfect example of the project-based learning Makeshop encourages kids and their families to try.

Encouraging kids to experiment builds important skills in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM), educators say. Spurring lifelong interests will hopefully one day lead to careers. With inspiration from museums, the Maker movement is also catching on in schools—in Pittsburgh and around the country. Last month I spoke to educators and researchers who are using what’s happening in Makeshop to further understand what makes tinkering so valuable for young learners, and to bring that back to classrooms to ensure all kids can experience this kind of learning.

Rookie of the Gear may have ended, but check out what the folks at Makeshop have planned this fall. If you can’t get to Makeshop, the Makeshop Show is the online headquarters for kids to get ideas for maker-inspired projects like a gumball machine fish tank or a soup can microphone.

To Support STEM Learning, It Takes a Village

When the robotics team at Clairton High School outside of Pittsburgh earned the chance to compete at a national level after winning the Western Pennsylvania championship last month, their main concern was whether they could afford to go. The question of how the team of five would make it to the National BotsIQ Competition, held May 17-19 in Indianapolis, was one that many other competing teams never had to ask themselves.

“It’s a little bit disheartening that some schools have all sorts of resources available to them and we have to work for it,” said Clairton robotics team member Amanda Gillespie.  “But in another way, it’s a good thing because in life you have to work for things.” Gillespie is a senior at the high school, and has been involved in other Hive youth programming.

Clairton is one of the state’s smallest and poorest school districts, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and could not afford the trip—about $4,000 for lodging, food, transportation, and other competition fees. They also needed around $1,000 extra to buy spare parts for their fighting robots but their fundraising had stalled until an article ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailing their financial situation.

“It’s amazing the support that we’ve seen,” industrial arts teacher at Clairton and Robotics Club sponsor Dennis Beard told the Post-Gazette.

More than 100 strangers, some from as far away as California, donated an amazing $58,000 to the Clairton Robotics Club’s cause. This kind of outpouring shows how important STEM is to people and companies, and not only in Pittsburgh.

Less than a month ago, the Chrysler Foundation provided nearly $30,000 in grants to support 10 Michigan high school robotics teams that had qualified for the 2013 FIRST Robotics Competition. Meanwhile, a community organization in Dansville, KY donated to their local Wayland-Cohocton Robotics Team to cover next year’s operating expenses, which typically provide for new parts for the robots such as motors and gearboxes.

Parents, teachers, business owners, and others in communities across the country know how important it is that we prepare our students for STEM careers. As Mohammad Qayoumi, president of San Jose State University, wrote recently:

Over the next 10 years, 5 out of 8 new jobs and 8 out of 10 of the highest paying positions in the United States will be in careers related to science, technology, education, and math (STEM) subjects.

But in a decade the United States could face a shortage of one million STEM graduates. The nation’s economic vitality hangs in the balance.

And, as he wrote, “A major barrier to graduating more STEM majors is the way we teach these disciplines.”

The kinds of competitions and clubs like the students at Clairton enjoy are one way to hook students, but we need to do an equally good job of showing students that what they learn in a robotics class translates directly back to algebra or geometry or computer science. Making that connection is a key element of a new “connected learning” movement. In this working theory, the key is to start with teens’ interests, focus on production-centered activities, and provide them with strong mentors and adults who can help them make the critical links from what they’re tinkering with and what happens in school (or even later in the workforce). At the center is the internet and digital media tools that boost the ability of teens to share their work and learn from and connect with others.

Meanwhile, the Clairton team made it to the quarterfinals this past weekend before being knocked off. A big congratulations is in order. We know they’ll be back next year.

STEM Fields: Not Just For The Boys

The relationship between young women and STEM subjects has become almost a trope, and a tragic one at that. We’ve all heard it over and over again, from the infamous Mattel Barbie doll that once uttered the words, “Math is tough!” to the unfortunately sexist obituary of pioneer rocket scientist Yvonne Brill published just last month in the New York Times. In what some have called “patronizing” language, the obituary of the famed scientist opened with praise for her beef stroganoff and willingness to follow her husband from job to job. What I’m getting at is that the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics aren’t exactly welcoming women at the door. More importantly, experts and educators have started to notice—and are working to change it.

“Today, women hold a disproportionately small share of the degrees in majors that strongly correlate to post-college STEM jobs such as math and engineering,” said Chelsea Clinton in a recent article for the Huffington Post. “It’s not only women who have lost out because of these disparities. Overall economic growth has suffered too,” she continued, citing a Booz & Company study that found that America’s gross domestic product would rise by 5 percent if women matched men’s employment rates. “With the U.S. Department of Commerce expecting STEM jobs to grow 17 percent between 2008 [and] 2018 … excluding women from the pipeline hurts American companies in search of the best high-tech talent,” she said. “Economic expansion hinges on both halves of the workforce receiving the tools needed to drive innovation.”

Many have echoed this sentiment, including Chairman of Shell UK Edward Daniels, who penned a recent op-ed for the London Evening Standard. “The chronic shortage of girls going into science and engineering is not simply a question of gender equality. It is a huge threat to economic growth. We are losing out on untapped talent and failing to keep pace with our competitors,” said Daniels, who stated that roughly 90 percent of girls “effectively disqualify themselves” from a career in engineering by the age of 14.

Daniels suggested that female role models in STEM fields need to be more visible if we are ever going to break the “just for boys” stereotype that surrounds potential career paths in math and science—something that the women behind the Girls of Steel robotics team in Pittsburgh have been working on.

The team, started in 2011 by Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics industry program director Patti Rote, aims to “give girls the skills that will last far beyond their high-school years,” according to their mission statement, and has been a huge success. As reporter Dave Zuchowski noted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in their first year the team took home Rookie All Star awards at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science Technology (FIRST) regional competitions in both Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. Their winning streak continued in 2012 when they won the Engineering Inspiration Award. Last month, they won the Dean’s List Finalist Award and again won the Engineering Inspiration Award, which qualifies them for the world championship April 25-27 in St. Louis.

FIRST is another organization working to create opportunities for young people in STEM fields, with a vision of creating a world “where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” The nonprofit has been staging youth robotics championships for over 20 years.

The vision of FIRST is unfortunately not yet a reality, but the work of programs like Girls of Steel is helping to make it become one. Groups like Click! Spy School, which introduces young girls to science concepts through “covert missions” where they are secret agents-in-training, and the career exploration program CanTEEN, also in Pittsburgh, are doing incredible work engaging young women in STEM subjects like never before and helping them envision future careers. Both are programs of the Carnegie Science Center’s Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development.

“We need to work with teachers to ensure classroom science offers girls a vision that matches their personal values by showing that it is the engineer, the physicist, who can make major contributions to solving global challenges,” said Daniels, and it is the innovative educators in Pittsburgh and elsewhere who are spearheading this movement, exemplifying the goals Daniels and other field experts have been echoing for far too long.

Preparing Our Students for Their Robotic Futures

In the future, robots will have superhuman abilities in both the digital and physical worlds, says Illah Nourbakhsh in his new book Robot Futures. They’ll be able to go places we can’t, have minds of their own, and will be better at carrying out online tasks than we are.

It’s National Robotics Week and a good time to ponder what this may mean for our future and the future world our children will inhabit. It’s a good time to pay attention to leaders like Nourbakhsh, who understand the power this new technology will hold in the future and say we should be asking today how we’re going to share our world with these “new creatures.”

Nourbakhsh leads the robotics Master’s program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. For those of us not in the field, his predictions about where robotics technology may take us read like a sci-fi novel – nanobots that could allow us to assume different physical forms, adbots with interactive custom advertisements, the internet that takes a physical form. It’s almost mind blowing to imagine.

But what shape this technology actually will take, he seems to be saying, is up to today’s citizens and students to decide. And educators should be taking note.

As the leader of Carnegie Mellon’s Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab), Nourbakhsh is at the helm of helping to prepare teachers and students to use technology in socially meaningful ways. As regular readers of Remake Learning know, the folks at CREATE Lab are responsible for some incredible learning opportunities for kids outside of school and partnerships with classroom teachers designed to, according to their website, “empower a technologically fluent generation.”

Their Arts & Bots program, for example, teaches educators to experiment with robotics in their classrooms. Teachers in social studies, chemistry, and language arts classes are integrating CREATE’s Hummingbird Kits into their classrooms. Kids are building robots out of craft materials and animating them using a visual, drag and drop, programming environment.

At The Ellis School for example, high school science teacher Terry Richards used the kit to have her students create robotic arm models to study anatomy. See Barbara’s story on Robotics poetry for more great examples.

National Robotics Week is an educational event that aims to inspire students to pursue careers in robotics and related science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Congress established National Robotics Week in 2010 to raise awareness about robots and their important role in shaping the future of education, industry, and the U.S. economy. You can check out the website for more information, including a map showing events in your area (looks like there are events in almost every state), as well as recommended activities and online resources.

To help celebrate here in Pittsburgh, CMU’s Robotics Institute is hosting some special lectures, project demonstrations, and the annual Mobot (mobile robot) races. And the Carnegie Science Center’s incredible Roboworld exhibit is holding behind-the-scenes tours. You can see robots that shoot baskets and play air hockey and interact via touchscreen, as well as some of the most famous robots of them all—think C-3PO and R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and Robby from “Forbidden Planet.”

The National Robotics Week Advisory Council is also debuting videos in a push to inspire the future innovators about STEM subjects. A NASA video featuring Bobak Ferdowsi, NASA’s “Mohawk Guy” and flight director for Mars rover Curiosity, is a reminder of the great power and promise of these technologies. No matter what their chosen field, roboticists say it’s likely today’s students may be working shoulder-to-shoulder with robots in the future.  It’s a reminder of why tomorrow’s leaders need to be technologically fluent and why they need to understand the important ethical implications as well.

“We have invented a new species, part material and part digital,” Nourbakhsh said in a recent op-ed, “that eventually will have superhuman qualities in both worlds at once.”

He predicts some of the ways robotics could strengthen the power of corporations, and further concentrate power in the hands of the few. But he also argues that the robotic future we should try to bring about is one that uses robotics to bring civic and community change, and to empower individuals and communities to make sure technology is used for the public good.

“My hope is that this book will help us envision, discuss and prepare for change, so that people and communities can influence how the robot future unfolds,” Nourbakhsh said.

National Robotics Week’s focus on STEM education is one way to do that. We’ll have more on how educators are using robotics to inspire our future innovators next week.