Robot Academy lets anyone build robots

Inspiration often strikes at the most unexpected of times. For Queensland University of Technology robotics professor Peter Corke, a 2012 accident was that moment.

A serious bicycle crash left him unable to leave his home. But that didn’t stop him from teaching his robotics engineering students.

With no one available to cover his classes, he instead narrated and recorded his lectures from home.

That led to a spark of inspiration. “It soon became clear that I could teach 80 students in a classroom, or 100,000 online.”

“This led to a kind of teaching megalomania. I got to thinking that if there’s a whole generation of people who need to learn about robotics, I should teach them!”

It was in that Eureka moment that Robot Academy was born.

The robotics of the Academy

In collaboration with QUT, the Robot Academy has delivered 750,000 free, undergraduate-level lessons to students in over 175 countries – and it’s only been running for two years.

All anyone needs to participate in the courses is the Internet.

“We are teaching a lot of students about robotics and vision, anywhere, anytime,” says Corke.

This accessibility has meant that courses have attracted students with a wider demographic span than many traditionally taught STEM courses.

More than 10% of students are over the age of 55 and close to half (46%) of students are female, which is much higher than the average university engineering classroom.

Students are scattered across the world, with the top five countries with the highest number of students being China, United States, India, Germany and Mexico.

The prorgam provides more than 200 free, short lessons ranging from robot arms to computer vision,

The courses aim to help people upskill themselves and discover the potential of robotics.

While the classes are targeted at an undergraduate level, around 20% of the lessons require little more than common knowledge.

“I’m proud that the Robot Academy provides a very supportive and inclusive environment,” says Corke.

The future of the Robot Academy

The academy has recorded impressive growth, with nearly three times as many students in its second year of operation then it had in its first year.

This year, there are plans to add lessons on mobile robots, which are the technology behind self driving cars.

Professor Corke says that there are only plans to improve the Robot Academy in the future.

“The feedback from participants has been great and we are looking at how we incorporate more formalised testing and provide some sort of qualification upon completion.”

The QUT Robot Academy can be accessed here.

This article was first published on Australia’s Science Channel, the original news platform of The Royal Institution of Australia.

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