“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."
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.
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).
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.”
“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.”
The LocoRobo design will also be open-sourced, available under Creative Commons.
“Things like this bring meaning to an otherwise fairly boring existence as a professor,” he said.-30-