Carnegie Mellon Collaborates with NASA to Offer High School Students a Summer Course in Robotics at Its West Coast Campus

MOFFETT FIELD, CALIF.--Thirty San Francisco Bay Area high school students entering their senior year this fall will soon participate in a new robotic summer course offered by Carnegie Mellon University at its West Coast Campus at Moffett Field, Calif. The course is being offered in collaboration with NASA's Ames Research Center and the National Hispanic University at San Jose, Calif.

Students in the "Robotic Autonomy" program will build, program and operate their own vision-based, mobile robots as they learn about the electronics, mechanics and computer science of robotic systems. The college-level class will culminate with an autonomous robot contest in August. After the course is completed, graduates of the program will take their robots home for more experimentation. Each robot is worth more than $1,000.

Many of the 30 students in the program are Hispanic high school students from the San Jose area, including the new Latino College Preparatory Academy located on the National Hispanic University campus. Since May, the students have been preparing for the course by attending classes in mathematics for robotics, as well as classes in the C++ and JAVA computer languages, which are necessary to program the robots.

"We are delighted to host the Robotic Autonomy program with Carnegie Mellon University, a renowned leader in computing and robotic technologies," said Ames Center Director Henry McDonald. "This is an excellent opportunity to provide world-class instruction in robotics to these young students, while helping to meet the educational outreach goals of the NASA administrator," he said. "I am particularly gratified that more than half of this first class is comprised of minority students sponsored by the National Hispanic University."

The seven-week Robotic Autonomy course will be held from July 1 to Aug. 16 in Building. 17 at NASA Research Park. Media are invited to attnd an opening day rception July 1 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. , PDT, in Building 17. The class will be taught by Illah Nourbakhsh, assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh. Nourbakhsh is co-founder of the institute's Toy Robots Initiative and conducts research in electric wheelchair sensing devices, robot learning, theoretical robot architecture, believable robot personality, visual navigation and robot locomotion.

"Our students will be building sophisticated, vision-based mobile robots during the first two weeks of the course, and programming them to solve increasingly challenging problems throughout the summer," Nourbakhsh said. "Because these robots have vision capability, they will be able to move quickly both indoors and out, even over and around obstacles.

"At the end of the program, each student will take his or her robot home to keep. The robots will provide them with an unprecedented opportunity to continue to learn about and experiment with robotics," Nourbakhsh said. He noted that every student graduating from the robotic autonomy course will receive 12 units of Carnegie Mellon University credit, transferable to any college or university of their choosing after they complete their high school studies. The Robotic Autonomy course represents Carnegie Mellon's first outreach program on its West Coast campus at the NASA Research Park. Courses leading to master's degrees in software engineering and e-business will begin in the fall.

"We are excited to begin this joint venture with NASA for community outreach in the Silicon Valley," said Raj Reddy, Carnegie Mellon's Herbert A. Simon university professor of computer science and robotics and director of the West Coast campus. "This program exemplifies our commitment to an active, stimulating and challenging educational process."

The West Coast campus is a branch of Carnegie Mellon University, which is known as one of the world's premier institutions for information technology research and education. It is also known for its strengths in engineering, fine arts, business, public policy and computer science. University officials have been working to establish a campus in Silicon Valley since 1999 and have been working with officials at NASA Ames as they develop the NASA Research Park at Moffett Field.

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