Fostering Innovation through Robotics Exploration (FIRE)

The Fostering Innovation through Robotics Exploration (FIRE) project focused on reversing the significant national decline in the number of college students majoring in computer science, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It involved developing materials focused on two areas of computer science: algorithms and computational linguistics.

The initial goal of the project was to create unplugged materials such as puzzles solvable with pencil and paper, which do not require programming. The researchers then followed that by producing short articles, illustrations, and video clips to help students learn about algorithms and linguistics. These materials were provided online and integrated related activities into the FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) robotic competitions.

Start date: 6/23/2010
End date: 7/1/2013

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Each year, advances in computer science affect other fields of science and technology and lead to fundamental new discoveries, from deciphering the human genome to understanding the structure of the universe. Many people, however, still think of computer science as merely programming.

The FIRE project developed materials to help school students understand the challenges, techniques, and possible careers in computer science. In particular, the researchers implemented techniques to teach about computational thinking by introducing fun problems and puzzles based on algorithms and related math principles. The thought was that more students would become interested in computer science if it is tied to problems in various fields outside computer science, such as natural sciences, arts, sports, entertainment, and society.

The project team was drawn from the organizing committee of the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO). The FIRE project was designed to build upon the experience of the Computational Linguistics Olympiads and develop materials on the application of computer science to other fields. Dr. Dragomir Radev adapted existing NACLO problems and wrote new problems for presentation at robotics and computational thinking competitions. 

This grant was a subcontract of the main four-year, $7 million grant at Carnegie Mellon University led by Principal Investigator Robin Shoop. For more information, please visit the FIRE Project’s website here.


Fostering Innovation through Robotics Exploration, Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA): $70,000


DARPA is a United States Department of Defense agency responsible for the development of new technologies designed for military use. The organization sponsors revolutionary, high-payoff research that bridges the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use.