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Science/Technology

Meet the ’bots

Children from local schools get acquainted with USC Viterbi robots

by Katie McKissick
Robotics Open House
Robotics Open House at USC Viterbi (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

As part of National Robotics Week, about 2,000 students, teachers and parents attended the USC Robotics Open House, an annual event sponsored by the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center, where robotics researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering open their lab doors to show the public what their research is all about.

The open house held on April 10 was part of the ongoing outreach efforts of USC Viterbi through VAST, the Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher program, with the goal of inspiring the next generation with the creativity and possibilities of science, technology, engineering and math.

Students were treated to demonstrations from graduate and postdoctoral students who showed them the research robot they work with — such as PR2, Nao and underwater robots — and talked about what robotics is and how they first became interested in engineering. You can take a quiz to find out which robot you would be.

Graduate student Elaine Short introduced Chili, a Dragonbot developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that helps children learn about healthy eating habits. A highly interactive robot, she asks students what types of food they eat, and she shares information on her favorites. To tie the information together, we learn that she is training for a dragon competition and needs to eat healthy foods to be competitive. Chili is covered in red fur and adorned with plush dragon wings, which she got from the local puppet shop Viva La Puppet. Chili’s face is an iPhone screen, so her mouth animates when she talks, and she can make funny faces.

Visitors had an opportunity to see 3-D scanning and printing demonstrations, as well as the visual sensory system for the Beobot. Students were invited to play with consumer robots like Pleo the dinosaur and the Scribbler.

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