Cutting the costs

Artificial intelligence will meet Butler intelligence with a lower of an expense than before.

The department of computer science and software engineering purchased 45 new robots last week in the hope of alleviating a financial burden for Butler University students.

The 45 new robots and kits for the robot programming class will be provided free of charge to future students.The robot used to be an out-of-pocket expense.

The robots, called Scribblers, are made by Parallax Inc. and resemble the common robotic vacuum cleaners seen on late-night infomercials.

The Scribblers can perform several functions, including singing, dancing, drawing and avoiding falling down the stairs. The robots act at the direction of a student who writes software that gives instructions to the robot via a Bluetooth connection from the student’s computer.

Panos Linos, the professor who has taught the robot programming class for its first two years, said the cost was enough to make some students look elsewhere.

“I had students that would come to me and say, ‘Listen, I’m a single mother, I want to take this class, but I can’t afford it,’” Linos said.

Linos said the total cost of the core curriculum class was between $400 and $500.

Linos said the robots have the ability to learn, and the idea of artificial intelligence as it is portrayed in movies is growing ever closer.

“No matter whether we want it or we like it or not, the robots are coming in our lives,” Linos said.

Some Butler students are finding it especially hard to get the Scribblers out of their hands after the course.

Amanda Parker, a freshman public relations major who took the class last semester, still has her Scribbler after unsuccessful attempts to sell it online with Linos’ help.

Parker said no one from the department ever offered to purchase her Scribbler or told her the plans of purchasing new Scribblers.

“That kind of makes me a little upset,” Parker said. “I’m not going to use my robot anymore, so someone else might need it because it is difficult to get, and it is expensive.”

Stephanie Pan, a freshman digital media production and German major who took the class last semester, said she has also been unable to sell her robot.

“I guess we were kind of like the test class,” Pan said. “I know some people would complain about it, but if we were the test subjects for the department, I think that’s fine.”

Pan said she took the class because it was one of the few analytical reasoning classes left available to her at the time of her registration, but she is glad she got stuck with it, since she said she learned a lot.

Pan said the way the Scribbler’s sensors work is similar to the sensors used by automatic doors and soap dispensers.

“I fixed (a soap dispenser) in Schwitzer’s bathroom because I found out how the sensors worked,” Pan said.

Jackie Bossard, a junior finance student who took the class last semester, said she thought the class was initially difficult because she had no background in programming, but she still found the class to be fun.

“In the end, even though I had to stay up all night quite a few times finishing my projects, it still was kind of fun because at least you’re doing something instead of just reading something,” Bossard said.

Linos said the class was specifically designed for students without experience in computer science.

“To me, it’s a revolutionary new way of teaching this discipline to people that are either afraid to try it or that think they might be intimidated by it,” Linos said.

Linos said past students have used the robots to perform classical dances, memorize and play the piano and create a program that can aid blind students.

Linos said Butler uses the robots as a member of the Institute for Personal Robots in Education and is exploring ways to develop a network for the robots and to use smartphones to control the robots.

Linos said he plans to attend a workshop at Georgia Tech, one of the institute’s co-founders, within a year to learn more and will be training another professor to teach the class to meet the high demand from students.