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Cognitive Science

Computer Science With Social Robotics

A $330,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) has partnered researchers from Rensselaer, the University at Albany, Union College, and Schenectady County Community College in a collaborative effort to lay the groundwork for an innovative new program in social robotics that the team hopes will revitalize computer science education.

Perceptions that programs of study in computer science are abstract and difficult to understand and apply have resulted in a global downturn of enrollment in the field, according to Selmer Bringsjord, head of cognitive science and co-principal investigator on the NSF-sponsored project.

“To attract the best and brightest students into the field of study, we need to revolutionize teaching and education in computer science by allowing students to experience the thrill of connecting deep, formal, abstract concepts with hands-on artifacts,” says Bringsjord.

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Selmer Bringsjord, professor and head of cognitive science, with graduate students Dan Werner and Micah Clark. (Photo by Kris Qua)
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He and a team of researchers are investigating the development of a program that would emphasize the use of robotics to interactively teach a range of core computer science competencies.

Called social robotics, the prospective program would look beyond the engineering challenges associated with robotics, toward the variety of roles robots can play in modern society, the challenges of technology interacting with humans, and the ethical issues such interaction implies. Such a program would leverage popular interest in robotics to make aspects of computer science applicable and appealing to students both within and beyond traditional science and technology backgrounds, according to the researchers.

Researchers are hoping the new field of study will draw on the expertise of a variety of disciplines including elements of design, psychology, cognitive science, communication, and philosophy.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.