Robot Virtual Worlds - Providing children with virtual robots to program with!

Robot Virtual Worlds - Providing children with virtual robots to program with!

United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Computer Science and algorithmic thinking are "new basics" that all children need to understand. Robotics is being used as a motivator of CS-STEM education. We have developed a solution that enables children without robots to control virtual robots using the same code they use to control their physical robot. This new innovation will be extreemly well recieved in education because it will give all students an opportunity to program robots (in a game like environment). This innovation will also be widely accepted in emerging economies who do not have the funding to bring robots into schools. We began by developing an emulator for ROBOTC that enabled the software to target a PC then developed the DLLs that enable ROBOTC to talk to Unity, a game development software.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Formal and informal education across all demographics. Our materials are being used in thousands of schools across the United States and have been translated into twelve languages.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We have developed the only solution that allows students to use the exact same code to control virtual robots in a game like environment using the exact same programming language as they use to control their LEGO, VEX, or Arduino Robot. We are making the solution available for free to students through our new "Computer Science Social Network" (CS2N). At CS2N students will also find all of the training materials that they need to learn to program in a newly developed Learning Management System. Our group will offer classes to students in both formal and informal education on multiple activities. This solution provides equity. If a student or school has access to a computer and the internet, then they have access to our materials.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

To provide opportunities for children to learn programming. We make all of the resources available for free: the curriculum, a moodle based Learning Management System, and the Robot Virtual World.
About You
Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy

Organization Phone


Organization Address

10 40th Street, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15201

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

The Robotics Academy was started in 2000 by a teacher that worked in the Pittsburgh Public School System for 28 years. Hi background was Industrial Arts education and he was involved in the school district's transition to Technology Education. He recognizes that we are in an era of exponential change and if we are going to prepare students to compete in the emerging economy that they are going to need to teach them skill sets that many teachers are not prepared to teach. The Robotics Academy develops research based solutions for education that teach 21st century skills.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

We have developed a back end database that tracks users. Our project is using the motivational effects of gaming to retain interest in computer science.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

We are in year one of the development of the Computer Science Social Network. We've had an informal launch of the site in May 2011, we had nearly 2,000 downloads of our technical demonstration of the Robot Virtual World programming solution. We are working with organizations like the Boy Scouts, 4H, and Boys and Girls Clubs as well as with national robotics competition sponsors to market the project.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Loss of key personnel on the project. We need to have more redundancy of people who have the intellectual know how of how the technology works.

Tell us about your partnerships

We partner with FIRST Robotics, VEX, the National Robotics Challenge, Boys and Girl Scouts, 4H, and other informal education groups. We also have partnerships with LEGO, Robomatter, IFI, and National Instruments.

Explain your selections

When I started the Robotics Academy in 2000 I recognized that depending on foundations would not allow us to maintain our outreach and mission. Our organization provides many free resources to students and teachers, but of course there is no such thing as free, you have to do business to stay in business. I have cultivated partnerships with organizations and businesses that serve the robotics education market. My organization provides services and products to those organizations. As our organization has gotten larger so has the number of students and teacher that we reach; our materials are being used by millions of students per year based on sales. For example, we just signed a multi-year contract with Project Lead the Way and they will use software that we support as well as our training materials for the next five years. I started a for profit company named Robomatter which funds approximately 1/4 million dollars per year to Carnegie Mellon which allows us to pay for staff that works at the Robotics Academy. Our outreach has been entrepreneurial but at the same time generous to organizations without resources.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Educate to Innovate - while we can't predict what the new innovation will be in five years we can more confidently predict that innovation will involve computer science, embedded systems, engineering design and mathematics; all of these concepts can be taught through robotics. Our work is research based; we have won 3 NSF research awards and 2 DoD contracts that have allowed us to develop strategies that use robotics as an organizer to teach Computer Science and STEM concepts. Robot Virtual Worlds using gaming to motivate learning, not that we've discovered this technology we will blend it with other technologies that we've developed with in the past (i.e. cognitive tutors) and develop better tools to engage children. In the ideal situation we would find funding that would allow us to make all materials and services available for free, but we have not been able to find funders that allow us to do that. We will continue to conduct collaborative research with others and develop research based solutions for education that teach computer science and STEM. Our project is distributed via the cloud. We believe that there will be a significant market for our cloud based educational technology. Our goal is to continue to be generous and post resources online for teachers and students but at the same time cultivate partnerships with for profit companies that sell into the education market.

Partnerships and Accountability
Please tell us more about how your partnership was formed and how it functions. What specific role does each partner play? What unique resources does each partner bring to the initiative?

Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy - a not for profit whose mission is to us the motivational effects of robotics to excite students about mathematics and science. The Robotics Academy conducts research around using robotics in informal and formal education to teach computer science and STEM education. Robotics Academy leadership has won 3 NSF awards, several DoD contracts, and had developed partnerships with for-profit and not-for-profit organizations that allow it to maintain its outreach.

LEGO, Innovation First, Robomatter, and others are resellers of our curriculum, software, and services.

DARPA - the initial funder of the Computer Science Social Network - DARPA has committed over 4M to this project. DARPA is interested in the project because they are looking out 5 years and predict that we will only be able to fill 30% of the computer science related jobs nationally. DARPA selected the Robotics Academy because we have a demonstrated the ability to put together a sustainability model.

The Computer Science Social Network - a place that we are developing where students of all ages can go to learn about computer science. CS2N will incubate at CMU but according to CMU legal and sponsored research when the funding runs out will need to be taken over by another organization. I am seeking partners that are interested in both growing and eventually owning the CS2N

How are you building in accountability for students' successful STEM learning outcomes? Please provide a summary and examples.

We conduct collaborative research with the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center that allows us to measure the impact our curricula and professional development services have.

I am able to send examples of the instruments that we use and papers that we have written if requested.


Investment, Human Resources/Talent.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add needs that may not be listed.

Investment and Human Resources/Talent - In an earlier question I wrote "you have to do business to stay in business". Our business model has us post our resources online at no charge allowing teachers to review the materials and either use the materials or purchase the materials; we also charge teachers for training. We work in an exponentially changing landscape; the educational technology changes and so do the development environments (HTML, Flash, Ruby, Rails, Cognitive Tutor, Unity, etc.) Our DARPA supported model has us making the materials for free to informal education (like the Robot Virtual Worlds) and selling into formal education. We will only be able to continue to make things available to informal education if we find support. Talented human resources allow us to do our work.


Marketing/Media, Innovation/Ideas.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add offers that may not be listed.

Marketing - Foundations are connected to people and ideas. If nothing else, I hope that the people that review this project will find ways to share our Computer Science Social Network with other organizations that work with children; our goal is to have over one million students per year active participants in our network.

Innovation and ideas - We are looking for partners to work with in the CS2N. We have seen in our own acitivities that we maintain approximately 40% female participation at the middle school level is CS activities, but that drops down to around 10% at the high school level. We need engaging opportunities to keep all children involved with activities that develop algorithmic thinking.