Local Partnership Wins IEEE Foundation Grant to Support STEM Education

For nearly a century, science fiction writers have imagined a future in which robots, indistinguishable from humans, interact and function in normal human societies.

Students from The Forge Initiative interact with KEN during an outreach event.  Photo courtesy of Grayson Randall.
Students from The Forge Initiative interact with KEN during an outreach event. Photo courtesy of Grayson Randall.

For thousands of students across North Carolina, that future is now. The Eastern North Carolina Section of the IEEE has been awarded an IEEE Foundation Grant to advance STEM Education through the use of humanoid robotics. The grant, titled “STEM Outreach Using Student-Built Humanoid Robots,” will help fund a year-long mentoring and outreach program designed to bring cutting-edge robotics technologies to students and families across North Carolina. 

Funding from the grant will support a partnership between the Eastern North Carolina Section of the IEEE and The Forge Initiative, a STEM education nonprofit based out of Cary, North Carolina. Volunteer mentors from the two organizations will work with middle and high school students to assemble and customize humanoid robots based on an existing prototype. Students will also learn to present the robots at STEM outreach events across North Carolina, providing opportunities for at least 4,000 people to interact with the robots.

The existing prototype, nicknamed Ken, was developed by the Eastern North Carolina Section Robotics and Automation chapter as part of a challenge to build a robot “indistinguishable from a human.” Ken made his official debut in March 2015 at the IEEE North Carolina RoboResearch Seminar, and has been delighting adults and children alike ever since. According to Project Director Grayson Randall, “It is wonderful to see how excited students get when engaged in spontaneous natural-language discussion with a robot.  You can see their interest growing with every word.  We hoped to expand this program dramatically to encourage more interest in STEM careers.  We just needed the perfect partner.”

The Forge Initiative is that partner. Linda Whipker, President of The Forge Initiative, stated, “Our mission is to focus on youth development and leadership through hands-on STE(Art)M education and community engagement. Working with the IEEE will allow us to add another dimension to our offerings.” Together, the IEEE and The Forge Initiative will help the future engineers of North Carolina bring about the future of robotics.

About the IEEE Foundation

As the philanthropic arm of IEEE, the IEEE Foundation inspires the generosity of donors so it may enable IEEE programs that enhance technology access, literacy and education, as well as support the IEEE professional community.

The IEEE Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization in the United States, fulfills its purpose by soliciting and managing donations, recognizing the generosity of our donors, awarding grants to IEEE grassroots projects of strategic importance, supporting high impact Signature Programs, serving as a steward of donations that empower bright minds, recognize innovation and preserve the history of technology. With donor support, the IEEE Foundation strives to be a leader in transforming lives through the power of technology and education.