Robots Spark Interest in STEM

How iRobot is reaching kids in local communities

How do you clean a gutter? Better yet, how do you get a robot to clean a gutter? And why don’t Roomba vacuums fall down stairs? Lots of questions were asked as Bedford, MA based iRobot made a visit to Empow Studios’ Lexington site as an outreach location to celebrate National Robotics Week.

“We enjoy visiting any place where we can interact with the students, and have a hands on experience with the robots,” says Lisa Freed, STEM Program Manager at iRobot. “The students are all eager to learn and we are excited to share our passion for robotics.”

During the presentation, iRobot STEM outreach team members Bonita Yip and Ben Kehoe, a Cloud Robotics Research Scientist, explained how various robots worked, including the Roomba, which relies on special sensors to keep it from running into walls or falling off stairs.

“One of the interesting features is how the Roomba builds a map of the room and learns where it has and hasn’t cleaned yet,” says Dave Gutierrez, Marketing and Outreach Manager for Empow Studios. “When the kids were thinking of what cool new feature to add to the Roomba, one of the kids exclaimed, ‘What if the robot could do our homework for us?’ Unfortunately, I don’t think parents would want that new feature.”

The kids also had a chance to try out the military robot FirstLook, which is designed to be thrown into buildings or dangerous areas to provide potentially life-saving images and data. The group also tried mock gutter cleaning using the iRobot Looj 330, which is built to plow through leaves on actual gutters. “It was awesome to see the kids so engaged with the robots,” adds Gutierrez.

iRobot’s goal is to spark a lasting interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Freed points out that what the iRobot outreach team does is just a starting point. “Ours is a broad brush visit,” notes Freed. “We are there to inspire students and provide excitement around STEM and robotics. Afterward, we rely on programs like Empow to continue that excitement and provide other ways for students to get involved with engineering and science.”

Robotics Week Gains Traction

The event at Empow Studios was one of hundreds of robotic events across the United States during Robotics Week, which is held each year in early April. “National Robotics Week boasted over 300 events in all 50 states this year,” says Freed. “This clearly shows the strength of robotics, and its prevalence across the U.S. It’s exciting for us, and more so for the students. We are seeing events ranging from industry tours to college open houses to young students taking their robot to the mall to show off their work. It’s exciting and our largest year ever.”

“National Robotics Week events offer the public unique opportunities to interact with robots in hands-on learning environments,” says Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot. “I encourage parents, teachers and other influencers to consider attending a local robotics event with their children or students. I can think of no better way to inspire students to pursue technology-related fields than exposing them to the excitement of robotics.”


iRobot STEM Outreach program:

National Robotics Week

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