Revolutionary and Affordable New Robotic System Debuts in FIRST Global Challenge 2022 = A Win for STEM Equity | news
Geneva, Switzerland– October 13, 2022 – Just hours before the year 2022 FIRST Global Challenge Opening Ceremonies at Palexpo, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), in partnership with DEKA Research and Development Corp. introduces the XRP (Experiential Robotics Platform), a new robotic platform poised to power the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education pipeline for generations to come.
The XRP robots, which are still in beta form, are simple, inexpensive, easy to build, and just as programmable as a far more expensive robot. With built-in educational and software support, the XRP robots are designed to work autonomously, perform basic tasks, navigate by themselves, sense distance, and manipulate their environment. Simple, tool-free assembly allows for quick assembly and parts can be easily swapped out with a 3D printer. When they launch next year, they will be 7 inches by 5 inches and weigh less than 1 pound (17.78 cm by 12.7 cm, 0.45 km). –about the size of a box of chocolates – costs less than $50.
“Robotics has proven extremely effective in sparking interest in broad areas of science and technology across the range of student levels from kindergarten to college, but access to affordable tools and sustainable support systems is often a barrier,” says Winston “Wole” Soboyejo, Interim President of WPI. “The XRP was designed and developed with this in mind, so that more young people from around the world could participate in the exciting activity of building and programming robots. Our world desperately needs more STEM professionals and business leaders with diverse experiences, expertise, questions and passions for labs and boardrooms – only then will we be able to create, translate and deploy new science and technologies that all work. ”
All 185 teams represent 180 nations at this year’s FIRST Global Challenge receive a free XRP to take back to their home countries. Teams are encouraged to share the kits with other schools or organizations interested in implementing or expanding robotics programs. The kits also give educators and students access to free online courses created and supported by WPI to build, program and control the robot, which they can scale using the same hardware with free software updates.
“We are at a critical time around the world when many of our most pressing problems, such as climate change, can and must be addressed by science and technology,” said Dean Kamen, a WPI alumnus and founder of FIRST Global and DEKA, who has worked with his alma mater for more than 30 years to engage and inspire young STEM enthusiasts. “The demand for this type of talent is great and having a global STEM workforce that is prepared for the future is not just a societal imperative, it’s good business. It is also important to every aspect of life on this planet that we continue to empower and encourage children by encouraging them to enjoy activities such as robotic sports. This will allow children to understand their own potential to use science – and that of science and technology – to solve the world’s big problems.”
“We considered every aspect of the design and materials to ensure it not only performs to a high standard, but also remains affordable. Having a robot that weighs and costs less than a textbook – so potentially every student in a classroom could have one – has always been our guiding principle.” – Brad Miller
The actual idea of distributing an affordable robotic kit around the world dates back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when WPI students abruptly switched to distance learning in Spring 2020 and FIRST had to have competitive robotics teams collaborate on various entries. Both had to figure out how to get distant students to design small, relatively inexpensive robots that they could get hands-on experience with. Eventually, WPI incorporated into its curriculum a commercially available robot kit that students could buy and build at home. A similar version was then used in FIRST Robotics competitions – one that could use the WPILib software for which WPI was created FIRST in 2009. From then on, WPI and DEKA Research & Development Corp. continue to work together to create the XRP and help grow the global STEM pipeline with support from an NSF grant through the organization Engineering For Us All (E4USA).
“The XRP will change the paradigm for hands-on robotics education around the world by dramatically reducing costs, expanding usage and improving curriculum support for teachers,” said David Rogers, DEKA’s Chief Development Officer, who helped develop the XRP has worked closely with WPI platform.
Unlike other platforms that require multiple upgrades to adapt to higher levels of robotics education, the common programming language used in the XRP kits also allows students to easily transition to more complicated projects.
“We considered every aspect of the design and materials to ensure that it not only performs at a high level but also remains affordable,” said Brad Miller, former director of the WPI Robotics Resource Center and senior fellow of the Global STEM Education Initiative WPI. “Having a robot that weighs and costs less than a textbook – so potentially every student in a classroom could have one – has always been our guiding principle.”
“Being able to see the results of your code running on a robot in the classroom is a way to keep and really encourage that excitement and enthusiasm in an area that can be challenging in areas with a range of obstacles can,” said Joe Doiron, director of the WPI Global Lab and Global STEM Education Initiative.
Production will be ramped up in the coming months to provide additional XRPs if needed. Meanwhile, WPI announces a major STEM initiative at both FIRST Global Challenge and XPrize Summit are also taking place in Geneva this week. The new Global STEM Education Initiative leverages the university’s expertise and resources to help other countries and underserved schools across the United States provide quality, accessible K-12 STEM education. Through the programming, activities and support of this initiative, WPI will help educators around the world bring inspiration and opportunity into their classrooms.
“If you dream big, even when you have very limited resources, the size of your dreams will determine the scale of your impact,” says Soboyejo. “To me, getting kids excited about STEM is just as important as encouraging them to dream big and surrounding themselves with people who nurture and nurture that dream.”