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Robots Get Academic

2:00 PM -- What is it with robots? First, a team from Carnegie Mellon University clinches the Robot World Cup in Germany (eclipsing the so-called stars of the real U.S. team in the process), and now Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), no less, is pushing the technology as a way to breathe new life into the computer science curriculum. (See C3PO Shoots... and Scores! and Microsoft, Georgia Tech Team.)

In a move designed "to boost enrollment and retention in college computer science classes," Redmond today announced the creation of the Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE) in partnership with the College of Computing at Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr College.

The schools, apparently, are proposing that each student should have their own personal robot -- something I would have died for during my own college years. Could you imagine it? Who wouldn't want a little R2D2 to fetch them a beer from the fridge or return their books to the library?

Sadly, this is not quite what the killjoys at Georgia Tech and Bryn Mawr have in mind. Their idea is that small, mobile robots could be made available at the university bookstore, shrink-wrapped with a textbook. Students could then use their desktop computers for developing and running programs to control their little buddy.

Still, I expect the next generation of ber-nerds will come up with some weird and wonderful robot research when the program starts up next year. I know that I recently poured scorn on plans to develop a robot soccer team that would one day be capable of beating the World Champions, but now I'm not so sure.

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