Robots in the classroom

The Optimus Agora Prize of the SNSF has been awarded to Luca Maria Gambardella. His project brings robots and schoolchildren together. And thereby also science and society.

Luca Maria Gambardella, in your project researchers show schoolchildren, teachers and parents how to programme robots. What exactly can they do with the robots?They can teach them behaviours that will enable the robots to collaborate with them. For children, it's like a game.

What insights does the project team hope to gain?What is the best way to teach people to think like a computer scientist. And how they can be encouraged to use new technologies. Without using books or a teacher-centred approach.

How can this be achieved?The children and adults first need to learn that the hardware only functions properly if you follow certain rules. Then they need to be able to identify any mistakes they made during programming. And finally, I hope they will be pleased to see that their input has produced a tangible result. That goes for both children and adults. In some cases, the kids may have more of a clue than their parents.

Why should robots and artificial intelligence be introduced into daily life?This is a development that we cannot stop. Society will have to come to terms with it step by step. A lot of research and new technologies are still needed to understand the physical possibilities of robots, but artificial intelligence is increasingly becoming a part of daily life. For instance, there will soon be apps that help us in making decisions. That doesn't mean we should delegate decision-making, rather we can consult the app for a second opinion. One of the biggest challenges of digitalisation is not to become too lazy to make our own decisions.

Luca Maria Gambardella is the director of the Swiss AI Lab IDSIA (Istituto Dalle Molle di Studi sull'Intelligenza Artificiale) in Lugano-Manno. His special field is artificial intelligence and swarm robotics, and he is currently in charge of the project “Introducing People to Research in Robotics through an Extended Peer Community in Southern Switzerland”. In recognition of its communicative potential, this project has been awarded the Optimus Agora Prize by the SNSF in partnership with swissnex in San Francisco. Agora is aimed at fostering dialogue between science and society.