Carnegie Mellon Joins Launch of SF-Sponsored Alliance To Mentor African-American Computer Scientists

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Includes Competition Using CMU's Calliope Robot and Tekkotsu Software

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University has joined Clemson University and five other university partners to launch the Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Science (iAAMCS), a U.S. resource for increasing African-American participation in computing.

The alliance is supported by a $5 million grant from the ational Science Foundation and is directed by Juan Gilbert, chairman of the Human-Centered Computing Division at Clemson, and Shaundra Daily, assistant professor in Clemson's School of Computing. It will extend the work of current SF alliances and demonstration projects that seek to increase the number of African-Americans pursuing careers in computer science.

A member of the leadership team is David Touretzky, research professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, who is co-principal investigator for one of its forerunner organizations, the Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance. In iAAMCS, Touretzky will direct an annual robotics competition at the Tapia Conference, an annual meeting of students, educators and computing professionals that promotes diversity in computing.

Unlike most robotics competitions, the iAAMCS event will be focused on computer scientists, not mechanical or electrical engineers, Touretzky said. Rather than building robots that are operated by humans using a remote control, competitors will write programs that enable their robots to perceive and act autonomously.

"Robotics competitions for computer scientists are all about computer vision and artificial intelligence algorithms," Touretzky explained. Students will use a robot developed by Touretzky's lab and RoPro Design, called the Calliope2SP. It includes an iRobot Create robotic base controlled by an on-board Linux netbook, and is equipped with a camera and a robotic arm. It employs Tekkotsu, a free, open source software framework for robots developed in Touretzky's lab.

Autonomous operation of these robots requires serious programming, Touretzky said. In addition to getting students excited about computer science, the robotics competition introduces them to a rapidly advancing field that will soon reshape lives as dramatically as the personal computer.

"For the U.S. to maintain technological leadership in this area, we need to make state-of-the-art robotics technology available to all of our students and use 100 percent of our talent pool by encouraging students from underrepresented groups to pursue graduate training in this area," he said.

"African-Americans represent about 1 percent of the computer science faculty and researchers in the U.S.," Clemson's Gilbert said. "We formed iAAMCS to increase the number of underrepresented groups earning computing science doctoral degrees and researchers in the academy, government and private sector."

Other partners in the alliance are the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Rice University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Winston-Salem State University. The institute will serve as a U.S. resource and emphasize mentoring as the primary strategy for increasing African-American participation in computing.

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |