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University Spins Off Educational Robot Start-Up

Root tablet and robot

Root tablet and robot (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

9 August 2017. A start-up enterprise spun-off from Harvard University is developing a learning system with robotics to teach computer coding to students. The one year-old company Root Robotics Inc. is licensing its technology from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

The core of the technology is a teaching system and robot called Root that provides students at elementary and secondary school levels with an intuitive way to learn coding from the earliest levels. The robot is a self-propelled, music-playing device that can attach magnetically to everyday school white boards and respond to commands from students using iPad tablets. From the students’ commands, the robot moves across the white board, leaving a trail of dry-erase marker lines illustrating the consequences of those commands.

Root’s programming environment, called Square, enables to early elementary school students to start with familiar blocks in a graphical environment, and advance from there to more advanced and text-based learning. Both the lessons with programming languages Python, JavaScript, and Swift and the learning environment change as the students progress.

The system is a product of the Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Robots Platform that develops robotic systems reflective of natural models to be safer and in some cases smarter than conventional industrial robots. Root evolved from a project in the lab of computer science professor Radhika Nagpal, also on the Wyss Institute faculty. Nagpal, a co-founder of Root Robotics, and colleagues developed early versions of climbing robots, with those processes adapted into Root. In February 2014, Science & Enterprise described other bio-inspired work from Nagpal’s lab, creating a control system for autonomous robots.

Root Robotics was founded in June 2016 by Nagpal, with former Harvard students Zivthian Dubrovsky and Raphael Cherney, now CEO and chief technologist respectively. The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced yesterday it raised $2.5 million in its seed financing round, led by TLP Investment Partners with contributions by Resolute Ventures, Dream Incubator, Coding & Play, and Harmony Capital. Root Robotics earlier raised $400,000 with crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

“Root really allows children to find their own trajectory in coding,” says Nagpal in a Wyss Institute statement, “by enhancing their natural interests and allowing them to go at their own pace. This makes for a very personal experience, which can be used with little kids or even in undergrad classrooms like mine”

The following video tells more about Root.

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