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Typical educational robotics approaches rely on imperative programming for robot navigation. However, with the increasing presence of AI in everyday life, these approaches miss an opportunity to introduce machine learning (ML) techniques grounded in an authentic and engaging learning context. Furthermore, the needs for costly specialized equipment and ample physical space are barriers that limit access to robotics experiences for all learners. We propose ARtonomous, a relatively low-cost, virtual alternative to physical, programming-only robotics kits. With ARtonomous, students employ reinforcement learning (RL) alongside code to train and customize virtual autonomous robotic vehicles. Through a study evaluating ARtonomous, we found that middle-school students developed an understanding of RL, reported high levels of engagement, and demonstrated curiosity for learning more about ML. This research demonstrates the feasibility of an approach like ARtonomous for 1) eliminating barriers to robotics education and 2) promoting student learning and interest in RL and ML.

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