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Illinois Country Living

December 2007 Issue: FeatureCommentaryCurrents SafetyGardenEnergy SolutionsFinest Cooking More

Commentary:

Is Robotics Technology in Your School’s Future?
Illinois needs to prepare students for the jobs of the future

There is no question that robotics technology is going to play a significant role in American business for the next 10 years. Let’s be clear, a “Bot” as I prefer to call them, is any kind of device that can function, either semi or fully, autonomous of its creator. Robotic functions will be built into every consumer electronics device. Homes will be filled with them, they will control our cars, and our factories will once again become competitive as they become more and more adapted to robotics.

This is a very good thing for America. Jobs will shift to highly productive skilled robotics control jobs. There will be many more science, engineering and technology jobs in the future.

Two of the best things about the United Sates is our creativity and our innate entrepreneurial spirit. As much as big business controls the short-term, we all know that small business and farmers built our economy. With technology now having a generation life of six weeks to six months, large industries will become less relevant and small to medium businesses that can adapt and specialize quickly will rule the day in the coming robotics explosion. This is as true of technology manufacturing as it will be agri-business. All parts of our economy will have niche robotics opportunities.

Therefore, those who have the skill set to create or program adaptive robotics will rule the niche markets of the future.
The macro-economic model for this is simple. If you look at the home building industry, the large and middle size builders are collapsing. Small entrepreneurial firms just shift emphasis for a time to weather the current slump. They do so because the cost of entry into home building is low. Anyone with the strength to lift a hammer is a potential business owner. The concept is simple; boards, screws, nails and hammers carry no copyright or patent and so the “barrier to entry” is very low.

What’s new is that this kind of model has crept into Information Technology (IT). Just as homebuilders pay little for hammers, there is a new generation of tools used by IT developers that have played a huge impact on the course of IT development. These new “open” technologies have radically reduced the cost of both hardware and software. These open technologies have made it possible for thousands of American businesses to enter the IT development market ridiculously cheap. This offers to communities that grasp at the opportunity, the ability to create new robotics niche industries at very low cost.

Therefore it will be essential that more and more robotics curriculum be added to schools NOW. Changes to education constructs change slowly, so if you want to see robotics in your schools next fall, NOW is the time to start.

We have sadly pushed our schools in an unfortunate corner of basing success on standardized tests. This is a two edged sword. It does indeed give us a measure of success by which we judge our schools. But, in doing so, our educational construct has become one of teaching to test.

In Illinois we have world-class engineering and science programs at our universities. Yet a high average of American students are not applying for and being prepared for applied science programs.

It used to be the partial responsibility of high schools to fill the role of vocational education. As that is NOT measured on the standardized tests, those kinds of programs have been cut. These programs are NOT ONLY important for teaching job skills but in balancing the education of a future Engineer or Scientist. Electronics goes hand in hand with physics. Metal shop goes hand in hand with Mechanical Engineering.
There is hope and there are programs that work. For example, Focus On NASA has created a series of 10 programs specifically designed to plug the holes in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming in our schools. Three of those programs are designed specifically for robotics education. Our TEAM CHALLENGER competitive robotics program is our flagship program and creates teams of youth that travel around their region competing in high level engineering competitions. We encourage PTO groups or interested educators to e-mail and ask for information on how you can develop a Focus On NASA program cluster in your area for the 2008/2009 school year. Please take a look at our Web site at www.focusonnasa.org.

The Focus on NASA (FON) programs are designed for youth ages 14 - 20 and designed to teach multiple disciplines of science & engineering. Curriculum is developed by a team of professionals from education, business and the social services to deliver a holistic design.


Jeff Gerhardt self labels as a father, inventor, entrepreneur, teacher and geek. Best known for his work in the online/Internet industry development, he is an outspoken advocate for digital rights issues and support of Digital Divide related causes.

The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.

© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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