Project Profile

Co-Robots to Enhance Motivation and Self-efficacy in Formal STEM Education


Rehabilitation and assistive robots are becoming more prevalent as the population is aging. Healthcare technologies are rapidly evolving and becoming increasingly high-tech and reliant on sensors for biological data collection and human-robot interactions to augment human capabilities. Not only is the field changing, but the demand for a highly skilled workforce is growing rapidly. Through meaningful collaboration among researchers, application developers, and students and teachers as users, this project will provide teacher professional growth opportunities that enhance formal STEM education.  It will increase attention to robotics in schools to attract and sustain students' interest and help them better understand and prepare for STEM career pathways. This project will directly engage at least 20 unique teachers from the States of Indiana and Georgia and over 1500 public-school students from diverse backgrounds during the three-year project lifespan. It will broaden the participation of underrepresented students, including females and ethnic/racial minorities, by employing high-interest fields such as assistive and rehabilitation robotics, meaningful learning contexts such as improving human life, and hands-on learning facilitated with human-interactive robots.

This project presents Neu-pulator, Neurally Controlled Manipulator, an innovative, collaborative robot to integrate the engineering design process in STEM education. Neu-pulator is easy and inexpensive for students to design, build, and test with readily available lightweight and durable components. Its interdisciplinary modular nature accommodates various hands-on experiential learning activities to teach core science and engineering concepts. In particular, Neu-pulator blends mechatronics, computer programming, human-machine interface, and biomechanics. This work aims to lower barriers to entry and position students to think about co-robotics as assistive technology. The central focus of this research effort is to identify the potential impacts of positioning the student as a co-roboticist in the context of design thinking. The design-based research phase will allow the researchers to pilot learning experiences early in the project, refine the pedagogical approaches based on iterative feedback. The quasi-experimental design phase will explore the measurable impacts in a controlled experiment with rigorous evaluation metrics and appropriate statistical analysis in preparation for potential scale-up through the international teacher association. This project will deliberately engage teachers and public-school students in diverse environments. The research is established in an internationally implemented 9th-grade course—appropriate for the levels of student development and career decision making—offered through the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association STEM Center, which reaches up to 60,000 students annually.

This project is funded by the National Robotics Initiative 3.0: Innovations in Integration of Robotics (NRI-3.0) program, and the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.



Social Media


Principal Investigator(s)
Co-Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
Project Duration
2021 - 2024
Developing and Testing Innovations (DTI)
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
Middle school (6-8)
High school (9-12)
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Target Participants
Youth / students