By Ginny Miller
TUPELO – Zoe explores Chile’s Atacama Desert. Nomad searches for micro-organisms in Antarctica. And then there’s Bob, a robot built by two seventh-graders at Tupelo Middle School.
“We’re hoping to make him talk,” said Brian Haadsma, who worked with Alex Gray to build Bob.
“And we’re trying to program it to see a ball and hit it with its hand.”
The students are enrolled in the Excel Technology class, which teacher Julia Smith said exposes seventh- and eighth-graders to programs and technology above and beyond what is required by state curriculum standards.
“We actually have 12 Lego Mindstorms Education NXT robots that the students have built” from kits, Smith said.
She sees the value in introducing her students to robotics, which already is being used in fields such as surgery, scientific research and manufacturing. In turn, the 12- to 14-year-olds like it because it’s fun.
“This is a very technology-driven age,” Smith said, noting her students are trying to talk her into entering a BattleBots competition. (It won’t happen.)
Principal Linda Clifton said the school paid $3,000 for the robot kits.
“It takes learning to another level, and uses higher-level thinking skills,” Clifton said. “I think we have to challenge our students.”
That happened on Friday, when Tyler Sanders placed his robot on the classroom floor and clapped twice in an attempt to make it go.
When the robot didn’t respond with the intended behavior, “I think it hates me,” said the seventh-grader, who went back to a PC to troubleshoot the program until he got the desired results.
With bells and whistles such as motion, light and sound sensors, the robots are limited only by the students’ imaginations, Smith said.
But will they ever replace humans?
“Well, in certain instances they already have,” she said.
That won’t happen to Ashton Huey.
“Robots can help you, but without people they can’t do anything,” the eighth-grader said.
Contact Ginny Miller at (662) 678-1582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.