bots

The course is worth three credit hours and involves computer software, artificial intelligence and software configuration. 

Robotic Process Automation, a method of computer programming used to configure software to increase productivity with the help of internet bots, is now a class offered as part of X-Labs to prepare students to work with this new technology.

Battle Resource Management, Inc. was formed to “affect implementation and bridge delivery gaps that prevent organizations from effectively executing change.” BRMi is partnering with JMU to teach the RPA class, making it the first college the company has worked with. 

The idea of RPA may spring forth ideas of artificial intelligence and robots performing human behavior for some, but it’s actually an emerging trend to use bots to perform mundane tasks that humans don’t have time for. Founding director of X-Labs, Professor Nick Swayne, wants everyone to be clear on what the terminology means. 

“The name is really deceptive because it gives you the idea that you’re dealing with some sort of a physical robot,” Swayne said. “You set up a program that is going to go out and find information for you.”

Right now, the class is limited to eight people due to classroom size. Students with seniority who showed previous interest in X-Labs were notified first to prepare their  2019 spring schedules, when the class is first offered. This isn’t an informal pop-up class, but rather a 3-credit course open to all majors. 

“The cool thing about the X-Labs is that we get to pilot things and do things that are not part of a standard curriculum,” Swayne said. “If it takes off and the students really show an interest and we can get some interest in faculty or the instructor to come back and teach it, then we might see where it goes.”

RPA will be used to solve real-world problems in the workforce to reduce costs and provide growth. With bots becoming more involved in people’s lives, no individual is required to perform tedious tasks in the work setting, like manual data entry. Hiring more employees won’t be necessary with the help of web robots, according to Trevor Brown, senior director at BRMi. 

Brown will teach the RPA classes at JMU. He hopes to expand BRMi’s partnership to other schools in Virginia such as George Mason University in the future, but the ultimate goal is to have partnerships with universities across the country.

“What we’re trying to do is to free up the full-time employees from doing what we call remedial or repetitive tasks, for them to do higher-level cognitive thinking tasks like strategic building,” Brown said. “There really is so many benefits all the way around when we are approaching this.”

Senior computer information systems major Christian Caruso is one of the eight students taking the class. He said X-Labs allows him to apply his creativity while working with students in different majors. 

Caruso said RPA could even be applicable to systems like MyMadison. Internet bots could be programmed to pick the best classes based on Rate My Professors and then create a schedule.

“With this class, although it is tech-oriented and programming-oriented, I hope to find ways to solve real problems using the real skills, and make a real impact on the JMU community and the greater community at large,” Caruso said.

Virtual reality, drones and RPA are emerging fields that X-Labs hopes to prepare students to enter. For Swayne and Brown, their goal is for students to be knowledgeable about RPA and its potential for the future of businesses and schools.

“We want to find great young talent that is excited about this technology, that we can put them to work,” Brown said. “We’re trying to place them in environments where they can make a difference.”

Contact Mitchell Sasser at sassermp@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.