Inexpensive Robots a Game Changer for Global STEM Education
Hours before the opening ceremonies of the 2022 FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition in Geneva, Switzerland, a deceptively small, inexpensive, new robot made its global debut. Although the game-changing XRP (Experiential Robotics Platform) robot, developed by WPI and DEKA Research and Development Corp., is still in beta form, its powerful potential was clear—as was the international demand for it.
“We gave XRP beta kits to every competing team and asked them to share with other schools or organizations in their home countries who are looking to implement or expand robotics programs,” says Joseph Doiron, director of WPI’s new Global STEM Education Initiative, assistant teaching professor in The Global School, and co-director of the Global Lab.
“Within three days we discovered that the need for these kits already surpasses a million robots. We left Switzerland with a long list of global partners—from grassroots organizers to top officials of various nations, and even an ambassador—all of whom see the tremendous potential of the XRPs and the great benefit of having WPI’s guidance and support. Not only that, but we’ve attracted interest from musician and philanthropist will.i.am, whose foundation helps transform lives through education.”
People were telling us they needed thousands more of these made—and fast—which was only surprising in the sense of magnitude.
XRP robots have simple, inexpensive, easy-to-build platforms that are just as programmable as far more expensive robots. They also come with built-in educational and software support, are designed to operate autonomously, perform basic tasks, navigate on their own, sense distance, and manipulate their environment. The XRP’s tool-free assembly allows for a quick build, and parts can be replaced easily by a 3D printer. When they come to market, they will measure 7×5 inches, weigh less than one pound—about the size of a box of chocolates—and cost less than $50. With the kits, educators and students also get access to free online courses, created and supported by WPI, on how to build, program, and control the robot, which they can scale up using the same hardware with free software updates.
“Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback that we received in Geneva, we know that STEM educators, mentors, and trainers recognize the potential these XRP kits have for introducing young people to STEM—and to the power it unleashes within them,” says WPI Interim President Winston “Wole” Soboyejo. “The global appeal of the XRP is important because we cannot solve the world’s great problems without a diversity of STEM professionals with different insights and experiences working together. WPI and our long-term partners at DEKA created the XRP to address that critical diversity gap. The XRP will help address the lack of access to hands-on STEM education opportunities among less well-off populations, thereby expanding and filling the global STEM education pipeline so that we can spark more imaginations and ignite more flames of curiosity that will help with the important work of addressing global needs.”
“Unveiling the XRPs and sharing them with the teams and their mentors was a validating experience,” says Brad Miller, former director of the WPI Robotics Resource Center and senior fellow of WPI’s Global STEM Education Initiative. “A lot of thought and consideration went into creating every aspect of that platform, and what we heard was almost like a collective sigh of relief. This is not like anything else that exists, and you can’t go online to order something similar at this price point. We heard expressions of gratitude and requests for speed. People were telling us they needed thousands more of these made—and fast—which was only surprising in the sense of magnitude; we knew educators and mentors wanted an affordable, high-quality STEM education tool, but we didn’t realize just how much.”
During the trip to Switzerland, Soboyejo also joined Dean Kamen ’73, founder of DEKA and FIRST Global, for the XPRIZE ESG Leadership Summit—along with other global innovators, including CEOs and chief sustainability officers, who are committed to actively working on environmental, social, and governance issues, especially in the areas of climate, energy, biodiversity, and conservation. At this elite two-day gathering, leaders came together to discuss their sustainability efforts, share best practices, learn, and collaborate.