The Root prototype is already being used in Harvard research labs. And the Root will be widely available this spring.
The hexagonal Root, priced at $199, looks something like iRobot's Roomba vacuum cleaners. But instead of driving around a home sucking up dust bunnies, the Root can climb walls and roll across any smooth surface it encounters. It scans surfaces, writing or erasing as it goes, and can play music and sense and respond to its environment. Users can remotely control the Root or create programs for it through an iPad.
They can also program Root to scrawl out information on a white board at a particular time of day, create a mural, clean a whiteboard any time it is dirty or sound an alarm whenever a person walks through a doorway.
Nagpal said students who want to learn coding for robotics now do so mostly by working in simulation. "They don't see how sensors behave differently in the real world," she said. Root is developed, in part, to give them something immediately tangible.