In early December iRobot launched a new web site called SPARK - Starter Programs for the Advancement of Robotics Knowledge. The web site is designed to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. Although it is funded by iRobot, the site is aimed at robotics in general and is not specific to a particular type of robot or platform.
Kristen Stubbs, STEM Program Manager at iRobot, says "Robots are cool. Kids get excited about robots..." and so it makes sense to use robots as a way to inspire kids to think about careers in science and technology. Microsoft applauds this move to develop a new community for robotics education.
The Microsoft Robotics team also believes that getting kids involved with robotics is a great way to help teach computer science. The Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE), originally funded by Microsoft Research, has developed a curriculum specifically to use robots for teaching introductory computer science. Courses based on the IPRE course materials are taught at many universities, even to non-science majors, and there is an active community already in place.
As robots become more commonplace, the need for trained robotics scientists and technicians will increase in coming years. It is an exciting time to be a student, as new developments occur almost on a daily basis. However, robotics is a multi-disciplinary field incorporating elements of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. Increasing the level of interest in STEM at elementary and high-school levels is essential to feed into university programs and provide a steady stream of qualified graduates in the future.