For the last year and a half, the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) office at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, has been piloting a program to explore ways to use robots in education. The BeamPro Smart Presence System allows students to attend class without actually being there.
The BeamPro technology is being used for a wide variety of projects, including bringing artists to campus virtually, providing tours, connecting students with their academic advisers, and as a summer outreach program in robotics. Another use envisioned for the robot is allowing students to attend class while off campus because of an illness or family emergency.
“There’s never been a technology that affords you this kind of freedom, and I think it changes the way that we will eventually collaborate or communicate over distances,” Chris Stubbs, manager of emerging technology and media for TLT, said in an article for Penn State News.
The robot has two wide-angle cameras, microphones set up to eliminate echo and reduce background noise, a 17-in. LCD screen, and built-in speakers. Students use a computer application to remotely steer the BeamPro robot to class and can even command the robot to take an elevator or go to other buildings around campus, according to a report in Campus Technology. The device can reach speeds of 2 mph and connects to the Internet through dual-band radios or an optional 4G card.
“Lion Ambassadors could conduct tours, career services could use it for mock interviews with companies located anywhere, and foreign-language classes could invite native-language speakers located internationally to engage in the classroom. That’s just the beginning,” said Kate Morgan, director of virtual education at Penn State Lehigh Valley. “The future of interaction involves technology like the BeamPro and to have the opportunity to expose our students to it as undergraduates is one more way to prepare them for the millennial workplace.”