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Educational Robotics Spin-Off Company Acquired

Root tablet and robot

Root tablet and robot (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

20 June 2019. Root Robotics, a developer of robots that teach coding to school children, is now part of the consumer and educational robotics company iRobot Corp. Financial terms of the Root Robotics acquisition were not disclosed.

The 3 year-old Root Robotics in Boston licenses a technology based on research at Harvard University’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, 2-wheeled device that attaches magnetically to everyday school white boards and responds to commands from students using iPad tablets. The device also draws images, plays music, scans colors, and responds to touch and sound.

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 enables early elementary school students to start with familiar blocks in a graphical environment, and advance from there to more advanced and text-based learning.

Zivthan Dubrovsky, a co-founder of Root Robotics and former lead researcher in Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Robotics platform, says in an iRobot statement, “A four-year-old can begin coding Root using simple pictures and symbols that translate to robot actions. Once a child has mastered graphical coding, they can seamlessly toggle to the next two levels, which introduce hybrid coding, followed by full text coding.”

Root evolved from a project in the lab of computer science professor Radhika Nagpal, also on the Wyss Institute faculty. Nagpal, a co-founder as well of Root Robotics, and colleagues developed early versions of climbing robots, with those processes adapted into Root.

“Once we had a working prototype,” says Nagpal in a Wyss Institute statement, “the educational potential of this robot was immediately obvious. If it could be programmed to detect ink, navigate to it, and erase it, then it could be used to teach students about coding algorithms of increasing complexity.” Science & Enterprise reported on Root Robotics when it raised seed funding in August 2017.

iRobot, in Bedford, Massachusetts, plans to integrate Root Robotics into the company’s structure, with the Root device adding to the iRobot line of educational robots. Dubrovsky will become iRobot’s general manager of educational robotics.

“The acquisition of Root Robotics,” says iRobot chairman and CEO Colin Angle, “allows iRobot to broaden the impact of its STEM efforts with a commercially available, educational robotic platform already being used by educators, students, and parents. Root also helps increase the reach of iRobot’s educational robot line by offering a proven system for people of all ages, including students in elementary school.”

The following Wyss Institute video tells more about and demonstrates Root.

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