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Colleges try robots to boost computer sciences

Two colleges are hoping to make computer science classes a more attractive option by including personal robots with the textbooks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Still afraid to take that computer science course? Two colleges in Pennsylvania and Georgia are hoping to make it a more attractive option by including personal robots with the textbooks.

Looking to boost enrollment in introductory computer science classes, Microsoft Corp. is working with Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr College on a project aimed at developing new ways to bring robotics technology into the classroom. (Microsoft is a partner in the venture that owns

The software giant on Wednesday announced the creation of the Institute for Personal Robots in Education, which will be based mainly at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech.

Douglas Blank, an associate professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr, said the goal will be to start incorporating the robots in introductory courses at Bryn Mawr next spring. Georgia Tech hopes to start during that term as well.

Blank said the program is meant to use robots to make computer science more hands-on and practical, instead of traditional methods of just teaching students how to debug a program. The classes will use a special computer program which allows students to control their robots via computers.

Students will be taught how to do things such as search a maze, follow a line, use sensors to avoid objects and even play tag.

"What we want to do is make that very concrete," Blank said. "If the robot isn't behaving correctly, then you have to figure out why."

Plans call for Microsoft to devote $1 million to the project over the next three years, with the two schools chipping in a total of $1 million more.