NASA and the University of North Dakota are collaborating to offer a computerized course in 'telerobotics' -- enabling students to attend virtual classrooms on the Internet and to earn college credit. Telerobotics is the operation and control of a robot at some distance from the workplace.

The experimental course, offered by the university's Dept. of Space Studies, will run from Jan. 22 through March 26, 1997. More than one hundred students from countries including England, Australia, Malaysia and Canada will hear lectures on "Robotic Vision" and "Automating a Dexterous Robotic Arm" during the course.

"The project is designed to demonstrate a new and unique distance learning technology model that has not been attempted at this advanced level for college credit," said Mark Leon, Information Infrastructure Technology and Applications (IITA) Deputy Program Manager at NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA. "Our intention is to present an evaluation of the course at the Internet Society Conference to be held in Malaysia in June 1997," he said.

"At the end of the course, students in this class will be allowed to drive a robot at a distance from their remote sites," Leon added. For the course, registered students will need at least a 28.8 kbps computer connection to see video that will feature eight presenters.

Students who wish to receive university credit must register with the University. For students outside North Dakota, an enrollment fee of $294.95 is required. Enrollment deadline is Jan. 22. Registration information can be found at:

"There are a limited number of Real Audio channels and CU-SeeMe channels and these will be reserved for registered students," Leon said. Real Audio permits students to hear live sound via their personal computers that are hooked to the Internet class. CU-SeeMe is computer software technology that allows a student to see the professor and others in the class as well as to see robotic vision with the computer monitor.

"Many others will be able to participate in this course without registering, although their experience could be limited if instructional channels are all in use," Leon added. "Anyone on the Internet, even those with slow speed connections, can participate," he explained. More information about how to participate is found at:

"We will be making provisions so that anyone can participate in the course through such mechanisms as computer 'chat windows,' e-mail and the World Wide Web," Leon said. Chat windows permit users to submit typed questions as well as review text being exchanged by other students, the presenters and the professor.

If there is a high demand for information presented in the course, a second transmission of the classes will be made over the Internet. Other topics covered during the course will include: Remote Science Applications of Robots, Human Interface for Robotic Control, Elements of Field Robotic Design, Information Technology, Telemedicine Applications and Operating a Remotely Operated Vehicle over the Internet. A final examination also will be given to students via the World Wide Web.

The project is part of a three year, $170,000 NASA grant to the university that is funded until 1998. "Under this grant, we will continue to develop distant learning models," Leon said. "So, it is likely that another class will emerge next semester." The telerobotics course is one of two distant learning projects that the IITA K-12 is exploring, he added.

The other project is expected to take place in the continental United States and involves teaching an aeronautics course.

IITA is part of a larger government initiative to accelerate the development, application and transfer of high- performance technologies to U.S. engineering and science communities. IITA funds more than 50 different programs.

The goal of IITA is to promote the growth of a National Information Infrastructure using the vast amount of information that NASA has acquired since its creation. Access to this knowledge will allow the public and industry to contribute to rapid and significant advances in science, engineering, and technology.

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