2015-2025: Immersive robotics in an immersive environment: Robot City
By Tom Green
March 28, 2013
National Robotics Week (April 6-14) is 144 events taking place in 50 states that organizers claim take a year of effort, hundreds of sponsors and thousands of volunteers to produce. Immensely popular and growing bigger every year, while at the same time doing a wonderful job at engaging young minds to pursue a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educational path toward future STEM employment, the blockbuster event seems over and packed away all too soon.
What if it carried on for more than just a single week?
What if the event was extended by a full ten years, maybe longer? And what if it all took place within its own immersive, Disney World-size enclave or Robot City?
And no, not like the 2005 movie by the same name where Rodney Copperbottom cavorts with his mechanical mates in a robot-only city; rather, this metropolis would be a place where 6th graders through to college juniors could learn about, plan, develop and build robots continuously over time. The positive outcomes of such a venture might well be dramatic.
The adventurous South Koreans are up to the challenge. According to a recent report from the Robot Industrial Cluster Creation Project about US$ 322 million (357.5 billion KRW) would be invested 2012-2016 to convert Daegu, Korea’s third largest city, into a robot city and hub to the nation’s robot industry. In related megaprojects, Korea.net reports another $1.6 billion investment going into four robot-themed parks that will feature “an array of robotic marvels allowing visitors to interact with tomorrow’s machines.”
That’s a serious national effort in robotics from which the Koreans hope to reap serious future ROI. In essence, Korea is already taking aim at a national robotics decade, and then some.
Robot City and immersive robotics
In the US, a combination of immersive robotics, the dedication and energy of National Robotics Week, together with the artisans who built Disney World—plus a hefty investment—would make for an exciting team.
One can only speculate on and imagine the stunning results that might attend such a collaboration to build Robot City.
Summer camp for grade schoolers; a semester or entire academic year for high school and college students; or a vacation destination for the entire family, Robot City, with its hands-on workshops, lecture halls and laboratories as well as hotels, restaurants and shopping malls, its movie theaters screening only robot films, its own police force, right on down to sanitation crews, could become the innovation engine that helps propel robotics to a gushing series of mind-boggling breakthroughs and discoveries.
Its main thoroughfare, Asimov Avenue, busy with robot vehicle traffic and lined with buzzing hives of robot labs, would quickly become the dreamscape for young minds everywhere.
What next for “NextGen” education?
Such a Robot City venue would not be the exclusive domain of preadolescents, adolescents and their families; it would also be the nucleus for powerful collegiate learning as well. A very necessary educational experience in learning via immersive robotics; something that universities and colleges have been attempting to pioneer in recent years.
One such attempt in 2007, a semester-long, completely hands-on course powered by immersive robotics, took place at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
Later, the course formed the basis of an important paper delivered at the American Society for Engineering Education Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition (ASEE), Pittsburgh, PA. Authored by Maja J. Mataric, Juan Fasola, and David J. Feil-Seifer, and titled, “Robotics as a tool for immersive, hands-on freshmen engineering instruction,” it breaks new ground for the traditionally lecture-heavy, non-hands-on and decidedly less productive STEM leaning for freshman engineering students. Seems the authors readily see the value in the goings on during National Robotics Week as critical enablers for STEM learning on the collegiate level.
Robots as teachers. Who knew?
“With the rapidly growing trend toward interdisciplinary education, robotics has been recognized as a powerful pedagogical tool,” write the authors. “As robotics becomes an accessible learning tool for ever-younger students at the pre-university level, we must look for
visionary ways of taking advantage of its power as a pedagogical tool and an integrative theme at the university level.” Robot City could be the ideal learning center for the realization of utilizing “robot programming as a tool for teaching teams of students about how to understand complex systems and organizations, how to design, control and analyze them, and how to manage team work.”
National Robotics Week, in the three brief years of its existence, already has had a profound effect on education and ways to educate…and has been a joyful and an eye-opening experience for students, parents and educators alike. Who knew that these machines were not only cool, on-screen bot heroes but were exemplary teachers as well?
Now that we know, what next? The South Koreans got the drift and took swift action. How long will it be before Robot City and a National Robotics ‘Decade’ become realities?
Thank you National Robotics Week for leading the way.
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