CNN Documentary Addresses U.S. Science and Math Education Crisis – Features FIRST Robotics (Video)

Next Sunday, May 15th, CNN will air what promises to be an insightful and tremendously relevant documentary titled "Don't Fail Me: Education in America". The program focuses on the status of U.S. public education and the critical need to take action, or face a depressing, despondent future.

Among the leading authorities interviewed for the program are Dean Kamen, well known inventor, creator of the Segway mobility platform, and founder of the FIRST Robotics initiative; US Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Ursula Burns, Xerox Corporation CEO; and many others.

Some of the quotes and concerns expressed during the program are a wake-up call and clearly demonstrate that the country is already deep in a state of crisis. For example, Duncan states, "it is amazing to me that at a time of high unemployment rates, we actually have over two million unfilled, high wage, high skilled jobs."  Burns says that Xerox can't find enough skilled engineers in the US and that she is panic stricken about it.

Kamen took the initiative to start the FIRST Robotics program years ago because he saw the handwriting on the wall and felt personally compelled to take action. He says, "If we don't generate the next group of innovators, scientists, engineers, our standard of living, our quality of life, our security will plummet."

Note: If your browser doesn't play the embedded video above then view the trailer video directly on the CNN website.

The most compelling quote we've heard from the program so far came from Fredi Lajvardi, a FIRST Robotics coach that encourages his students to "dream big, be creative, and solve their own problems." Lajvardi says, "You decide what you're going to do. Not your condition, not your status, not your economic background, whatever, you decide what you want to do. That's what we're trying to teach them." The program, and the initiative that triggered it, is sure to be a boon to academic facilities that are positioned to fill the education gap, like the University of Phoenix San Diego and other similar organizations nationwide.

Whether or not you agree with the assumptions and conclusions of the program producers, we strongly urge you to watch. Even if you don't agree, the discussion and debate it can generate will be very productive and will raise awareness of the educational crisis facing the country.

Additional information including excerpts from the documentary can be found at

The program is scheduled to air on Sunday, May 15th at 8:00 ET and PT on CNN and will re-air on the following Saturday, May 21st in the U.S.

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Hexapod Robot Ready to Conquer Extreme Obstacles (Video)

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Kondo Robot just announced a new multi-legged robot kit, the KMR-M6, that incorporates features sure to make it a huge hit with educators, researchers, hobbyists, and avid robot competitors. Based on feedback from their large established user base, Kondo designed the robot to require only two servos per leg using a unique spring and multi-bar linkage approach that provides improved flexibility and stability even while tackling complex obstacles.


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Robot Discussion With Carl Clement (Video)

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As we mentioned in our previous post, Carl Clement has come up to speed with the NAO humanoid robot extremely quickly. After joining the NAO Robot Developer Program and receiving his robot about three weeks ago he has managed to create some advanced applications that demonstrate the real-world practical contributions the technology is capable of achieving.

Carl was willing to share his experiences with us via Skype the other evening and has given us permission to share our discussion with the Robots Dreams audience. The video below starts with us bantering about the earthquake that had taken place here that afternoon, but be patient. We quickly switch gears and get down to talking robots. :)




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Robot Stand-up Comedy with Marilyn Monrobot – Entertainment as Valuable Research (Video)

Heather Knight seems to keep a schedule that would make Alice in Wonderland's rabbit look like he was moving in slow motion. She's pursuing robotics research towards her doctorate at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute and running Marilyn Monrobot Labs in New York City. She has also done work for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, applications and sensor design for Aldebaran Robotics as a part of the NAO project, and is an alumnus of the MIT Media Lab.

Somehow, in the midst of all of that, or perhaps because of it, she's doing some surprising work exploring the potential for interactive robots to teach us a lot about our own behaviors and motivations. And, she's doing it via the vehicle of robot stand-up comedy:

Related links: Marilyn Monrobot Official Website

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How To Impress Japanese Robot Fans (Video)

The Japanese robot builders are definitely World-Class, even at the hobby level. Their intense focus on the technology, craftsmanship, and quality makes them tough competitors in almost every sector of robotics, except for military/defense applications where the US holds a unique position.


So, if you were an American robot builder who happened to be living here and had the opportunity to compete head to head with the local talent, what could you possibly do to impress them and improve your odds of winning one of the top positions?


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Mini-Documentary From KQED on Hackerspaces (Video)

KQED in San Francisco put together an excellent 5 minute mini-documentary on the hackerspace movement featuring Mitch Altman, one of the founders of the Noisebridge hackerspace:

Search out a hackerspace in your community. They are popping up all over the world. Over here, Tokyo Hackerspace is well over a year old and has established a real presence in the community along with serving as a nucleus and gathering point for crafter's, experimenters, and robot geeks. If there isn't a local hackerspace near you already, then seriously consider starting one.

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Humanoid Robot Navigation Teleoperation Using NAO and Kinect (Video)

We've been following Taylor Veltrop's work integrating the Kinect with humanoid robots utilizing the Willow Garage ROS system closely, and we weren't surprised when he mentioned last night that he had just finished a new “killer video.”

You may be aware that Taylor was one of the lucky, and extremely capable, developers that were selected to participate in the NAO Developer Program via Robots Dreams. So, it was natural for Taylor to implement his Kinect based master/slave control system with the NAO robot.

But he wasn't satisfied with just to get the basic remote control functions working, he also added a great deal of autonomous operation, to the point that his NAO can act as a remote avatar capable of maneuvering around the room, picking up items from a table, and transferring them to another table across the room. Very, very cool.

How did he accomplish it? Here's the background and details, plus some mind blowing demos like slicing a banana, cutting an onion, playing chess, hammering nails, and getting a tissue out of the box:

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RoboDance Support Opportunity – Please Help

Robert Oschler has done a fantastic job of single-handedly developing the RoboDance application that allows users of almost every WowWee robot, and some other manufacturers robots like the popular Takara/TOMY iSOBOT, control their bots remotely using their computer, voice, WiiMote, and even mind control using the Emotiv EPOC EEG headset.


For four consecutive years Robert labored diligently to produce each annual feature packed new RoboDance release, funding everything out of his own pocket and contributing all the work to the open source community so that everyone would benefit. It's been a labor of love.

But, as wonderful and powerful as love is, we all still need food, warmth, and a roof over our heads. Even robots have to pay for electricity to recharge their batteries and oil to lubricate their joints. So, to help "keep the lights on" and continue RoboDance development, Robert has put out a call for support.

There are several ways supporters can help. Robert has a number of Internet domains up for sale, including one that should be extremely attractive to anyone in the Google Android community. It's a great chance to lock down a strong domain while supporting a very worthy cause. Or if you prefer just click on the donate link on the RoboDance Fundraiser page and send Robert as much as you feel comfortable giving. I'm sure he will welcome, and acknowledge, all contributions no matter how big or small.

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