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Friday, 26 September 2014 10:02

Humanoid Robot Finds Home at Wood Road Elementary

By | News

“Scottie” Helps All Students with Science, Math, ELA, Literacy

BALLSTON SPA – As students in Wood Road Elementary in Ballston Spa returned to school, they were greeted by teachers, staff members and a special addition to the classroom – two NAO humanoid robots. The robots, one “boy” named Scottie and one “girl” who has yet to be named, have become popular classroom assistants.  

“When you first see the robot, you’re immediately drawn in. He’s attentive to the room and his eyes light up and you’ll see him look around the room,” said Dave Blanchard, Principal at Wood Road Elementary.  “People who have been around the robot get excited about being in the presence of him, so it’s neat.”

The robots, each 23 inches tall, have enhanced audio and visual capabilities. Equipped with camera and microphone sensors, Scottie is able to recognize a large quantity of objects, include face detection and recognition. He is also able to speak up to nine languages, perform sound detection, localization and automatic speech recognition. Scottie has active joints, so he’s able to sit and walk and can even pick himself up if he falls.

The friendly robots are also programmed to interact and educate kids with autism; and with a large population of autistic students at Wood Road, Principal Blanchard says Scottie has been a tremendous asset in the classroom.

“Autism is a social communication disorder,” said Blanchard. “The robot is non-threatening so it’s not like the teacher giving a lesson and the autistic child is having trouble attending because of a number of reasons. The autistic child might be more turned on to the non-threatening presence of the robot. We’ve seen students already communicating with the robot in a way that’s different than with their teacher.”

Wood Road Elementary in the Ballston Spa Central School District is the first school in upstate New York and one of two schools in New York State to have an NAO robot.  Both of Wood Road’s robots were purchased for a combined $30,000 through multiple grants, building funds and special education funding.

“He’s another member of our class at this point and all the kids want to be around him,” said Laura Henault, a special education teacher. “Scottie has positive reinforcement built into him, so when a question is answered correctly he’ll clap and say ‘good job.’ Or if an answer is incorrect he’ll be positive and reassuring and say ‘nice try’ or ‘you’ll get it next time!’ The kids respond well to either the positive or constructive feedback.”

The NAO humanoid robots will also be incorporated into general education curriculum and the school’s gifted and talented program. This multi-faceted initiative will eventually cross subject matter and curricula in schools across the district. While the district is less than one month into the school year, school administrators say the full capabilities of both robots haven’t been reached.

“There are so many moving parts within this,” said Jim Lovett, BSCSD Coordinator of Instructional Technology. “We haven’t even really delved into the upper-level programming – the C++, Java, the stuff the kids in FIRST robotics at the high school are doing -- we haven’t even touched that yet. In a project management timeline, that’s years out. We’re really in phase one of potentially six or seven phases with the robots.”

The district is currently working on developing apps and programming software to incorporate more lessons and activities and is taking life with the robots day by day. So far, both NAO humanoid robots seem to be fitting in seamlessly.

 "It fits so into the district's philosophy of the four C's that we use -- critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity," said Lovett. "It's literally limitless where they're going to fit into the district's puzzle and overall philosophy of efficiency and effectiveness through instructional technology."

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