Roomba Maker Moves into the Classroom with Root Purchase
- By Dian Schaffhauser
The owner of Roomba has expanded its footprint in the classroom. Consumer robot company iRobot Corp. recently acquired Root Robotics, which caters primarily to K-12. The latter's educational "Root" coding robot grew out of a summer research project in 2011 at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, where computer science professor Radhika Nagpal wanted to see if robots could "automatically erase the whiteboard" she was using to teach, according to a Harvard Gazette article. "Ironically," she noted, "we referred to it as a 'Roomba for whiteboards,' because many aspects were directly inspired by iRobot's Roomba at the time."
Those efforts grew into a company founded with Kickstarter funding by former Wyss Institute members in 2017. Root is designed to teach coding to children as young as four years old. The terms of the deal were not made public.
The Root is a two-wheeled, mobile platform that operates on flat surfaces such as tables, floors and countertops and vertical surfaces such as magnetic whiteboards. Users run a mobile app where they can tell Root to draw artwork, scan colors, play music, respond to touch and sound and climb whiteboard walls. The technology has three levels of coding language, from basic graphical blocks for young learners to text coding for more advanced users.
"The Root coding robot is an incredibly powerful tool for learning to code because it intuitively scales to users' abilities," said Zivthan "Zee" Dubrovsky, co-founder of Root Robotics, in a statement. Dubrovsky will now become general manager of an educational robots division at iRobot. He added, "A four-year-old can begin coding Root using simple pictures and symbols that translate to robot actions. Once a child has mastered graphical coding, [he or she] can seamlessly toggle to the next two levels, which introduce hybrid coding, followed by full text coding. This scalable approach is what has been missing from other educational coding robots."
Root Robotics said the robotics platform has been used in more than 500 schools and a million-plus coding projects have been undertaken to run on the Root app.
"What's been most rewarding for me personally is seeing my kids take Root to their classrooms and show their teachers and their peers what they've been able to make a robot do. Getting to see them problem-solve and iterate and then achieve something they're proud of is priceless," said Dubrovsky.
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @schaffhauser.