It’s been awhile since I added a “Meet Your Neighbor” post, but now’s the time for y’all to meet Laura Boccanfuso who lives right here in our community with her husband Tony, their 2 daughters and 1 son.
You can learn more about her and her work by watching Shark Tank, next week, May 6th at 10pm!
Teachers and parents are always going to be the most important people responsible for helping children learn. Laura Boccanfuso, founder and CEO of Van Robotics , knows this very well, but is convinced that most teachers (and many parents) could use some help. Children have different learning styles, and need differing amounts of time and attention to achieve their educational goals, but most schools require a standardized curriculum. Teachers often struggle to meet the needs of more than 20 students in a classroom of varied style-learners.
Because of this, many school districts have already incorporated technology into their classrooms to enhance their students’ learning experience. But most standard technology and the accompanying software is not sophisticated enough to gather information necessary to adapt to the individual student’s learning preferences. Meet ABii, a small robot teacher’s aide, who delivers grades 2-5 core subject instruction by engaging students with fun, social interactions designed to improve individual academic achievement.
Before establishing Van Robotics, Boccanfuso earned an MS in computer science from Bowling Green State University and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of South Carolina. Her focus was on artificial intelligence and human-computer interactions, and she was specifically interested in how to engage students with new materials. Working as a researcher for Yale University, she learned that the most effective methods involved continual monitoring and adapting to individual stress levels, and that this is especially important for children on the autism spectrum, or who have ADHD or other developmental issues.
After establishing Van Robotics in 2016, Boccanfuso developed eight prototype robots with 22 math lessons. In early 2018 they launched the first pilot program in schools in Alabama, Kansas, New York and South Carolina. Seed money was provided through Tech Stars Austin, South Carolina Research Authority, and Right Side Capital Management, totaling $1 million during the period January 2018 through June 2019. On January 27, 2018, Van Robotics was chosen as one of ten companies for the Techstars Austin 2018 accelerator, and The Tech Tribune named it as one of the very best tech startups in South Carolina in 2020.