Google funds Lego robots program for students in Germany

Google has gifted €1m to encourage German students to learning programming.

Google's charitable arm is spending €1m on a new German cloud platform to help students in the country learn to program Lego robots.

The search company hasn't had the easiest of times with German politicians and publishers of late , but that hasn't stopped it from bearing gifts for the nation, via a new program hoping to tackle Germany's shortage of trained IT experts.

Its €1m funding is for Open Roberta, a project to help teach students to program Lego Mindstorm robots, using a simple graphical interface. Open Roberta, created by Fraunhofer IAIS, has been running for ten years and been used by 30,000 children, trained by over 1,000 Roberta teachers.

The Open Roberta website says the program aims to help kids "from the first steps in programming to programming intelligent robot[s] with many sensors and capabilities" and allow them to collaborate with other students on their own robotics developments.

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Google says it has been working with Fraunhofer IAIS - the organisation it donated the funding to - over the past year to simplify programming the Lego robots, and to make it easier for trained Roberta teachers to impart their knowledge to would-be robotics programmers. Google's answer to that challenge? "Put the software in the cloud and open source it," the company said.

Alongside Google's funding, Lego Education, a regular sponsor of Google's online science competition Google Science Fair, donated 160 Mindstorm kits to be given in ten-packs to schools in the 16 German states.

Open Roberta is itself part of Roberta, an educational program partly sponsored by the German government that encourages students to immerse themselves in robotics.

"Open Roberta makes it possible for kids to work on their programming projects both at school and at home, share them with others, and tinker away on them together – anywhere and anytime. At the same time, this approach is of particular advantage to schools, which often do not have enough computers for all their students," said Sabine Frank, Google’s policy counsel for child welfare and media literacy, on its European public policy blog.

The student-focused robotics initiative in Germany reflects Google's higher level robotics ventures, including its Google Lunar X Prize, which offers $30m in prizes to unearth the best robotic for space travel.

Google itself has acquired several robotics companies in recent years , including Boston Dynamics , the creator of the military purpose BigDog robot. This effort was carried out under the lead of former Android boss, Andy Rubin, who left the company last week to start his own robotics hardware incubator .  

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