This Drexel prof built an easy-to-program robot: LocoRobo - Technical.ly Philly

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This Drexel prof built an easy-to-program robot: LocoRobo

Borne of his own frustration with robots, Pramod Abidchandani and three Drexel undergrads built a robot that even a first-grader can program. They're affordable, too.

Drexel professor Pramod Abichandani with his low-cost robots.

(Photo by Juliana Reyes)

Robots haunted Pramod Abichandani while he worked on his doctoral thesis.

“There were so many bottlenecks in my thesis because of those damn robots,” he said late last week, during in an interview at his lab in Drexel’s Bossone Research Center.

Instead of focusing primarily on his goal (developing algorithms for how driverless vehicles could operate without colliding), the Drexel professor frittered away time programming robots to use in his research — a complicated, user-unfriendly, expensive process.

"Those damn robots."
Drexel Professor Pramod Abichandani

That’s why Abichandani, with a team of three Drexel undergrads, built LocoRobo, a low-cost ($250) robot that can be programmed wirelessly in a pinch — through a mobile app for beginners or through various programming languages for developers. (Something comparable for beginners would be a LEGO robotics kit that goes for about $350 and which Abichandani said has “the worst programming support ever.”)

LocoRobo is raising $113,000 on Indiegogo to bring the product to market. You can pre-order one starting at $199.

Support by Jan. 1

Abichandani, 30, of Fairmount, hopes that educators can use LocoRobo to get students excited about STEM. Using the LocoRobo mobile app, students can wirelessly control the robot (“drive forward for 5 seconds,” for example).

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The LocoRobo mobile app for beginners. The left screen is to move the robot left and right. (Courtesy of LocoRobo)

Abichandani has tested the app in elementary school classrooms in New Jersey through a program he’s calling the LocoRobo Academy. He said student engagement so far has been “amazing.”

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“They just get it,” he added.

LocoRobo will be a nonprofit venture because of its educational focus.

“It’s as pure as a pursuit as education can be,” Abichandani said, “and I want to make sure it remains pure.”

kyle levin

LocoRobo team member and Drexel undergrad Kyle Levin. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

The LocoRobo design will also be open-sourced, available under Creative Commons.

Abichandani said his team of Drexel undergrads (William Fligor, Zachary Haubach and Kyle Levin, all 20) are the best thing to happened to him in his academic career so far.

“Things like this bring meaning to an otherwise fairly boring existence as a professor,” he said.

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