Underwater Robots and the BP Oil Spill - Making a Case for the Advancement of Robotics in Education

Shouldn’t your kid be learning Robotics 101? At the BP oil spill, robots are showing once again why the time has come for robotics as well as subjects leading to it should be given a boost in academic institutions. 

The BP oil spill might well be right on track to becoming the largest oil spill in history (no, it’s not the biggest ... yet), unless the people working on it and their robot counterparts can figure out and execute a solution fast. 
 
Being at 5,000 ft below the ocean surface, the damaged wellhead can only be reached by robots. Thus, while the task of coming up with a plan is certainly the job of humans, carrying it out at those depths must be left to the robots. 
 
This is not the first time robots have played a major supporting role to humans. In the battles and skirmishes fought in Afghanistan (and previously in Iraq), surveillance and even bomb disposal robots like the iRobot PackBot are saving human lives every day. 
 
Obviously, today’s sophisticated problems require sophisticated solutions - and sophisticated machines are just that. The robots we have now, impressive as they are, still could use lots of improvement. 
 
The robots deployed to assist in the oil spill might have been able to do a better job had they been more agile and (their robot arms) more dexterous - then that incident when a robot bumped into the ‘top hat’ caps at the disaster site may have been avoided. 
 
That’s where a solid robotics background can come into play. I’m sure there are many good roboticists out there. However, we certainly could use some more. 
 
This can be a rather tall order since robotics require two prerequisites dreaded by most students: science and math. 
 
There are existing initiatives that support the development of STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. One such initiative is iRobot’s Spark, a program designed to provide easily-accessible resources (pertaining to robots and robotics) for educators and parents who would like to improve their students’ interest in STEM.
 
Last June 24-25, iRobot partnered with the University of Massachusetts Lowell to hold a workshop dubbed STREAM 2010. STREAM is a workshop designed to teach K-12 educators how to enhance their STEM through robotics. 
 
Such short activities, while certainly very welcome, are not enough. More initiatives that integrate robotics into the curriculum from the elementary through the college levels are needed. 
 
While STEM subjects are prerequisites for robotics, the idea somehow works the other way around. That is, the use of robots and robotics is what arouses the interests of students for STEM.  And boosted interests lead to a stronger grasp of science, technology, engineering and math subjects, which in turn cause students to become better analytical thinkers, innovators, and inventors. 
 
With increase robotics education, when a disaster like the oil spill strikes in the future, we’ll be more prepared and better equipped for it.
 
 
 
This guest post was contributed by john V who is a member of the fastest growing online education communities and writes on topics like education, online schools, learning etc.

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