Changemakers in AI: Creating access to AI through Cozmo Day

Students learn to use Cozmo robots on “Cozmo Day” at the author’s high school in Southern California.

Guest post by Kevin Luu, Carnegie Mellon AI4ALL ’18

AI4ALL Editor’s note: Meet Kevin Luu, a CMU AI4ALL 2018 alum. In this post, he shares about his experience moving to the United States and how he channeled setbacks he faced in order to create opportunities for his classmates to learn about AI and computer science. Read on to learn about his “Cozmo Day” and how that went on to impact 112 students at his high school by creating access to CS and AI education.

Two years ago, I left Vietnam and immigrated to the United States, a country with more resources. I hoped to gain more experience in technology — computer science in particular.

However, my first impression was not anything like I expected. At my high school, there were not many opportunities to learn about tech on campus, besides a few computer science classes and cybersecurity activities. Students were not that interested in technology either. When I was a sophomore, my teacher ran an after-school coding activity but only ten students showed up and they spent most of the time doing their physics homework.

I felt jealous of my friends from other schools because they got to join and compete on robotics teams, learn software development, and even take AI classes. There were so many times that I wanted to transfer, but I had an idea that stopped me from doing that: “why transfer to another school when I can make my school a better place?”

I knew that I wanted to do something that could help the next generations become more interested in technology and computer science.

However, I did not know how to do this until I came back from the AI4ALL summer program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Professor Toureztky introduces Cozmo and Calypso software to students at CMU AI4ALL.

During my time in Pittsburgh, I was introduced to Cozmo robots and Calypso software, an invention of CMU professor Dave Touretzky. The system impressed me with its simplicity, and I liked that everyone from different backgrounds of computer science could learn how to control and program an automated robot. Also, Cozmo was a good way to introduce the basic concepts of AI. I immediately thought of having these little smart toys at my high school.

After the program ended, I joined the AI4ALL Alumni Program and received more than $800 through the AI4ALL Alumni Grant to support my activity. After discussing with my computer science teacher, we finally came up with a plan to have a “Cozmo Day” a few times a month. I spent the next two months building the curriculum, preparing lectures, and setting up the equipment.

In every instructional slide, I included pictures of the steps to program different functions of Cozmo such as speaking, moving, raising arms, or glowing colors. For some advanced features, I made a video demonstrating the program and the results it had on Cozmo to help the students better understand the purpose and result of the code.

At the end of each instruction, I gave a programming challenge so that the groups could use their creativity to complete it and receive extra credit from the teacher. In addition to programming materials, I gave students time to learn about the AI features that Cozmo has, such as computer vision or voice recognition.

An example of Kevin’s instructional slides.

During the lectures, the students were intrigued by the robots, as most of them had never been exposed to such technology. They cheered and applauded when the robot finished a task or completed a challenge. I was delighted to see 112 students enjoy my robotics activity, which I put countless time and effort into.

Kevin guides the students with their Cozmo projects.

Through this experience, I learned valuable lessons in leadership, patience, and communication. More importantly, I was able to guide students as they made their first steps into exploring a new and exciting part of technology.

I am proud to give back to my community after everything that I have received from it. I would not be the person I am today without the guidance of previous generations, so I think it’s important to guide the next generations as well, so that they can become the best version of themselves.

I am thankful to have received a lot of support and encouragement. I met many obstacles and struggles along the way but I was able to get through them. I want to say thank you to AI4ALL, Professor Dave Touretzky, Anki, the faculty at my school, and my computer science teacher, Ms. Terry Nguyen, for making this happen.

About Kevin

Kevin Luu is a high school senior in Southern California. He began learning computer science in seventh grade when he taught himself C/C++. After three weeks at Carnegie Mellon AI4ALL, he developed a strong passion for artificial intelligence and the program forged his aspiration to become an AI researcher.