Making High-Performance Robots Safe and Easy to Use for an Introduction to Computing

Joseph Spitzer, Joydeep Biswas, and Arjun Guha
Educational Advances in Artificial Intelligence (EAAI), 2020

Robots are a popular platform for introducing computing and artificial intelligence to novice programmers. However, programming state-of-the-art robots is very challenging, and requires knowledge of concurrency, operation safety, and software engineering skills, which can take years to teach. In this paper, we present an approach to introducing computing that allows students to safely and easily program high-performance robots. We develop a platform for students to program RoboCup Small Size League robots using JavaScript. The platform 1) ensures physical safety at several levels of abstraction, 2) allows students to program robots using the JavaScript in the browser, without the need to install software, and 3) presents a simplified JavaScript semantics that shields students from confusing language features. We discuss our experience running a week-long workshop using this platform, and analyze over 3,000 student-written program revisions to provide empirical evidence that our approach does help students.

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