Engineering Graduates Design a Robot for Learning

August 31, 2015

Six members of NYIT's Class of 2015 from the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences are building a robotic dog as part of their entry in Global Summit Student Day, an upcoming international competition in Beijing, China. Designed to be programmed by children as young as nine, the robotic dog is an example of Personalized Assisted Learning (PAL), a major area of engineering research identified by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Activated by an Android app developed by the team, the dog transforms into a learning assistant that can provide tutoring in math, reading, and science. The tutorial curriculum is based on standardized tests and allows users—in this case, children ages 9 to 13—to select the subjects and grade levels of their tutorials.

For the competition, 15 teams of students from China, the United States, and the United Kingdom will pitch business plans about developing their inventions to a panel of judges. The NYIT team will present a plan for their robotic dog and demonstrate how it works. Their goal is to show the potential to improve children's performance on standardized tests and free up teachers' time for other purposes.

"Children working with PAL can see the immediate outcomes of their input," said NYIT team member Kazi Raihan. "The dog reinforces the lessons they've learned."

Created to encourage engineers to tackle some of the world's urgent challenges, Global Summit Student Day will be held in conjunction with the second Global Grand Challenges Summit from Sept. 14 to 16. It will be hosted by the Chinese Academy of Engineering with additional support from the NAE and the British Royal Academy of Engineering. NAE has identified 14 achievable "grand challenges" faced by engineers, including issues that have worldwide implications for the wellbeing of humans. Healthcare, urban infrastructure, sustainability, and advance personalized learning are among the challenges. In March 2015, NYIT Dean Nada Anid, Ph.D., traveled to Washington D.C. to join President Barack Obama and fellow university engineering deans in a formal commitment to produce graduates prepared to tackle NAE's challenges.

Faculty mentors recruited all six students to represent NYIT: Bo (Bonnie) Du and Pai Zhu from the Nanjing campus (who spent their senior year in New York), and Nicole Gutierrez, Benson Lee, Elias Ureña, and Raihan from the Manhattan campus. The NYIT team is the only one to include members from more than one country.

Teams proposed their projects in December 2014 and those invited to participate began executing their plans shortly thereafter. The NAE provides guidance on developing a business model. Through working on the project, the NYIT graduates have learned the depth and value of robotics beyond simply wiring a device to perform a function.

"Robotics involves more than just programming and putting components together," said Ureña. "You have to understand how the living organism you're building actually moves and functions. It requires a deeper knowledge outside of technology."

Read more about NAE's 14 grand challenges of engineering