Classroom robot boosts STEM, engages children with autism

In 2012 the district received a grant worth almost $22,000, for robot acquisition, from Cargill Corporation. NAO, developed by the French startup company Aldebaran Robotics, arrived in March, and both Stacey and four advanced programming students are currently getting acquainted with the walking, talking, and Tai Chi-loving NAO, manufactured in Japan.

So far, students are sending typed messages to the robot, which repeats them back seconds later.

Stacey told the Hutchinson News that students can program the robot to do whatever they’d like it to do–an asset he says will look great on resumes and will serve as an early introduction to advanced engineering before the kids head to college.

Aldebaran Robotics describes the robot as an autonomous and programmable humanoid that offers students interactive lessons. For example, rather than calculating the velocity of a hypothetical curve ball, students work with NAO to apply the mathematical formula in a computer program.

NAO weighs 9.8 pounds and stands almost 24 inches tall. The little robot is equipped with a lithium battery, although he is usually plugged in. A camera, sensors, and microphones are also part of its anatomy, and its “ears” are speakers.

Aldebaran Robotics hopes high schools like the one in Hutchinson will incorporate robots like NAO into their STEM curricula to help stir up interest in the field, especially among female and minority students.

School staff at Hutchinson say NAO is worth the investment. Already, enrollment in its advanced computer programming class is up compared to last year’s numbers.

(Next page: NAO and autism; more on National Robotics Week)

Meris Stansbury

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