How are robots pushing the boundaries of education?

Robots are moving beyond the automotive and manufacturing industries, disrupting many sectors, including education
Pennsylvania State University (PSU) uses telepresence robots to allow its faculty and students who aren’t able to attend lectures in person to participate in classes and interact with their classmates virtually
Thanks to a robotic solution, a student from Ohio who suffers from multiple disabilities can join the classroom virtually and interact with his peers in real time
The Moberly School District in Missouri adopted a robot called Milo to work with autistic students and help them practice social skills
To make robotic technology more accessible to educators and students, iRobot acquired Root Robotics, which is known for its educational robotic solutions

Robots are advancing at a rapid pace, and though the tech has been around for quite some time, it has mostly been used in the automotive and manufacturing industries. However, over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a variety of advances in the field, thanks to which this cutting-edge technology is set to disrupt many industries, including education.

Robots are being designed to reduce errors and improve productivity, and increased demand for robot-driven automation is making the robotics market grow. According to GlobalData’s forecast, the global robotics market will surpass $275 billion by 2025, compared to $98 billion in 2018. Although sceptics believe that robots will eventually take all our jobs, such a robot apocalypse is still far from reality. Instead of seeing robots as a threat, we should take advantage of this exciting technology. 


A telepresence robot called Beam encourages students to participate in classes

To make learning more accessible, some schools are deploying telepresence robots. For instance, Pennsylvania State University (PSU) introduced several telepresence robots to bridge the distance between its two campuses, Penn State Greater Allegheny and Penn State New Kensington. A robot called Beam allows faculty members and students who aren’t able to attend lectures in person to still participate in classes and interact with their classmates virtually. 

To project themselves onto the robot’s display, users are required to log into the Beam app from a smartphone or computer, after which they can move the robot around. Penelope Morrison, an assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State New Kensington and assistant professor of biology at Penn State Greater Allegheny, says that the robot is better than traditional video conferencing, because it encourages students to participate more in classes, which wasn’t the case earlier. “I’m happy they are engaged and paying attention. My students now perceive they are part of the classroom,” explains Morrison. 


A robotic solution helped an Ohio high school student who suffers from multiple disabilities to get excited about school

Robots like Beam could also help students with disabilities to participate in classes. Thanks to similar technology, Jimmy Humphreys, a junior at Brookfield High School in Ohio, can participate in classes and talk to his teachers in real time. Because of his multiple disabilities, including visual impairment, Humphreys isn’t able to attend regular classes. With the assistance of a robot, he can now join the classroom virtually and interact with his peers. The innovation, which Brookfield High School received for free from Ohio State University, consists of an iPad installed on a two-wheeled motorised platform.

The robot certainly did a good job in helping Humphreys get excited about school. As he explains, “When I stopped going to school, I noticed a real downhill slope from not interacting with people. So now that I’m back interacting with people it has really changed my attitude.”


Milo helps autistic students with social interactions

Robotic technology also proved to be useful for the Moberly School District in Missouri. This school district adopted a ‘socially advanced’ robot called Milo to work with autistic students, and help them practice their social skills. Milo is able to show different expressions, and while the robot speaks, a screen on its chest features symbols to help students understand what’s being said. The robot will also direct students to watch videos on their tablets. These videos involve actions that demonstrate certain skills. After students have watched the video, the robot will ask them to “say whether the person in the video is doing the action correctly”. 

Teachers who had the chance to use Milo in their classes say that the robot has helped students with their social interactions. So far, the Moberly School District has spent around $10,000 on deploying the robot and developing the right curriculum for students.


This robotic company is on a mission to enter the education marketplace

Although the education sector is slow when it comes to adopting emerging tech like robots, robotics companies are increasingly trying to enter the education marketplace. One of those companies is iRobot, which specialises in the development of home robots. As The Verge reports, iRobot acquired Root Robotics, known for its robotic solution that teaches children how to code. 

With the new acquisition, iRobot hopes to “diversify its educational robot product offerings” and “make robotic technology more accessible to educators, students and parents”. iRobot already has its own educational platform, but with Root Robotics’ technology, it will be able to reach elementary schools and develop new robotic solutions. Best of all, iRobot is selling Root Robotics’ robot at a very affordable price – just $200 for a single robot and $90 for the accompanying app and whiteboard.


The future of robots in education

The use of robots is still new in the field of education. However, interest for implementing robots in schools is increasing. Though these innovative solutions will never fully replace teachers, they will play an important role in education. As the tech gets even more sophisticated, we can expect to see wider adoption of robots in schools and other educational institutions in the future.


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