BirdBrain Technologies aims to use finch robot to teach computer programming - Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, May 6, 2011

BirdBrain Technologies aims to use finch robot to teach computer programming


There is a growing number of companies around here with products or interests in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education arena — Bayer Corp. and its Making Science Make Sense campaign pops to mind, as do companies like Zulama and their work with the Entertainment Technology Center for game design, and Apangea Learning and its math tutoring programs.

Add one more to the list, BirdBrain Technologies LLC, created by Tom Lauwers, an instructor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, along with associate professor Illah Nourbakhsh. The company aims to make introductory computer science courses more engaging than programming a website with the words “Hello World.”

Instead, why not program a small robot (that looks like a small finch bird) to say, “Hello World,” dance or light up on command.

“Students are more interested and more motivated when they can work with something interactive and create programs that operate in the real world,” Lauwers said in a written statement announcing the product launch. “We packed Finch with sensors and mechanisms that engage the eyes, the ears — as many senses as possible.”

The Finch and its toolkit is for sale on its website here and sells for $99 each. The program is designed for anyone 12 years old and up. By including the robot, instruction time can be spent on the programming and not building the hardware, Lauwers said. It plugs into a computer over a 15-foot USB cable and can be programmed with Java and Python.

“Computer science now touches virtually every scientific discipline and is a critical part of most new technologies, U.S. universities saw declining enrollments in computer science through most of the past decade,” said Nourbakhsh, who is also director of the Robotics Institutes CREATE Lab. “If Finch can help motivate students to give more computer science a try, we think many more students will realize that this is a field that they would enjoy exploring.”



Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times