Robotics, computing & society

In a world flooded with technology, it’s easy to go about your day without wondering how it all works. So when Tom Bressoud was planning a first-year studies course focused on computer science, he wanted to find a way to pique students’ interest. The associate professor of math and computer science eventually landed on the idea of using robots.

“It seemed like a great opportunity to engage our first-year students who may only take this as an introduction to what computer science is all about,” explained Bressoud.

In working with robots, students learn a digital programming language and use it to produce a series of actions in the physical world.

“The programming we’ve done with the robots is very elementary, but it lets you see how much time and effort goes into development,” said Chris Martin ’15 of State College, Pa. “It gives you a better appreciation of the challenges engineers have.”

In addition to actually programming robots, students looked at science fiction novels and films to explore the perception of robots in society. They compared the realities of computer science and robotics to what is often presented in popular culture.

For some, the class intrigued them enough to want to know more.

“We have a number of students in this class who have expressed a lot of interest in continuing in computer science,” said Bressoud. “That wasn’t expected.”

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