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By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter
While the fresh snow provided children with an endless amount of outdoor activities to take part in over the weekend, the Wellesley Free Library offered some indoor fun for Saturday’s chilly afternoon. Although snowball fights and snowman making will always be classic winter pastimes, the future is looking to robots and technology for entertainment.
To teach children about technology and coding, the Wellesley Free Library offers a drop-in “Robot Petting Zoo,” where different stations are set up in the Wakelin Room for children to meet and interact with robots.
“It’s just for kids to come in and learn,” said Jennifer, who helped to run the program. “Each robot teaches something a little bit different about coding and the basics of coding, so we have this every couple of weeks for the kids to explore and play.”
As Jennifer helped children play with and understand the Code-A-Pillar, a robot caterpillar, and the Ozobots, pocket-sized robots that can follow paths drawn with special markers, children also enjoyed the highly anticipated NAO robots, small robots named MiP and Cozmo, and several others, including one that made spirograph-like art.
While robots like the Code-A-Pillar and Ozobots can be checked out with a library card, the NAO robots, named Lava and Sky, live exclusively at the library. The children were overjoyed to meet the red robot, Lava, who could see, speak, and move. Although some children felt shy around the robot, Lava would greet the kids after it heard the word hello.
With the help of Julia, who could program Lava, the robot even said some of the children’s names. It also danced for the kids and responded to visitors tickling its belly and patting its head.
The children spent a lot of time with Dot and Dash, two robots controlled by the Wonder and Blockly apps. The kids took turns using an iPad to control Dash to zip around the room. Besides acting as a remote-controlled car, Dash can also respond to voices, navigate objects, dance, and sing.
Similarly, MiP, the small robot, rolls around the room, but uses GestureSense technology to be controlled instead of a remote control or iPad. That means MiP can see, recognize, and respond to hand movements. While one simple wave of the hand instructs it to go, a rigid, open palm commands it to stop.
With robots for children as young as four years old, the “Robot Petting Zoo” amazed and inspired both kid and adult library visitors.