Will Robots Join Classrooms?


The consumer robotics market is expanding with the arrival of ‘bots that can spy inside your home when you’re away or arrange virtual meetings of family or friends. A new vacuum cleaner, ConnectR, by iRobot Corp. has a webcam bulging from the top.

“As these kinds of devices mature in the years ahead, I expect them to gradually become more sophisticated in terms of providing gestures, object interaction such as picking things up, and eventually moving toward a more human shape,” said James Kuffner, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute.

Parents on a business trip can use ConnectR through a Web connection to a home wireless network in order to send remotely the wheeled robot into a bedroom. There, the children could open a book in front of the robot’s camera. The parent could then read the story aloud and watch and hear the kids’ reactions. The family could also converse.

The user can operate the robot with either a joystick or a computer installed with iRobot-supplied software.

Color digital video streams only one way. Thus, a traveling parent could see the kids but not vice versa.

Up to 10 parties can have PIN-number access to the gadget, allowing distant relatives or friends to keep in touch, as well as immediate family.

IRobot says ConnectR will become broadly available early next year for less than $500.

Hmmm. It seems an obvious to ask, “Are remote controlled electronic observations a next step in educator accountability to the broader community? How many boards of education have addressed the issue of remotely controlled observations in classrooms and school related meetings? Given the existence of the technology potential, when will ConnectR’s off-spring or competitor enter classrooms as unauthorized spys or as a parent’s authorized third-party-observer?”

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Robert Heiny
Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in [I]The Encyclopedia of Education [/I](1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for [I]TuxReports[/I].com.