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SIUE Researchers Aim to Enhance Telepresence Teaching Robots

SIUE Researchers Aim to Enhance Telepresence Teaching Robots

Photo: Junior mechanical engineering student Gregory Embry shows Dr. Mingshao Zhang his draft design of the educational robotic platform.

Telepresence is nothing new in today’s advanced technological environment, but there’s room for scholarly exploration and development when it comes to the effective use of telepresence robots in classrooms. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Engineering’s Mingshao Zhang, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, has received $56,304 from the Wailian Education Group to pursue the possibilities of this innovative technology in education. “We want to develop a telepresence robot as a supplement to more standard videoconferencing, such as Skype,” Zhang explained. “This would be for use in educational settings, where the combination of a video screen on a moving robot that is programmed with social behaviors could enhance student learning outcomes and also improve the credibility of the instructor.” A team of SIUE undergraduates, including Alexander Dinan, Gregory Embry, Bryan Kier, and graduate students Pengji Duan and Kai Li will assist Zhang in designing a prototype of an educational robotic platform that would allow users, such as a teacher, to remotely control the robot’s motion and interact with students through the screen. “The development of telepresence in education is slower than it has been in office environments and healthcare,” Zhang said. “With this platform, instructors could teach from a remote location, while the robot can assist with the social interaction that is necessary to effectively lead a classroom.” Zhang emphasizes that this platform would be effective in special needs scenarios. It is not intended to take over classroom education as we know it. “It could be used in special cases, where perhaps a high school classroom needs a remote specialist to teach a specific college course,” he said. “This platform would be an innovative way to fulfill that need in a way that supports positive learning outcomes.”
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