Fifth-grade students at Woodland Heights Elementary School learn about the "980," an autonomous robot which Jake Drouin of iRobot brought to the school on Wednesday afternoon. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Jacob Drouin, an alumnus of Woodland Heights School, returned yesterday to introduce pupils to the mysteries of robots and the value of a STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education.
Drouin, who went on the graduate from Gilford High School and Plymouth State University, works in the marketing arm of iRobot Corporation, a firm founded by three graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that has designed and built generations of robots for military, police, medical and household uses.
"It's my day off," Drouin told the fifth-grade pupils, noting that iRobot is committed to nurturing future generations of innovators and expects its employees to take five days each year to promote STEM education by explaining the rudiments of robotics and demonstrating the performance of robots.
The pupils, when asked many build with Lego, virtually all raised their hands.
"The guys that started the company all began making things with Lego and Erector sets," Drouin told them.
Then with a short video, he showed different types of robots, autonomous and controlled, strutting their stuff. One, resembling a mule, clambered up and steep hill while another with four legs kept its feet on glare ice while a man repeatedly tried to knock it down.
The highlight of the presentation was the performance of four robots. As the pupils ranged themselves in large circle, Drouin brought out the Braava jet, a small robot that scrubs kitchen and bathroom floors. Set on a trapezoidal table, it began by orienting itself, tracking the edges of the table, then set to scrubbing. Next Drouin tossed a First Look into the circle. Running on treads and fitted with flippers, it righted itself with a maneuver a turtle would envy, and prowled around the circle. Equipped with four cameras, the remotely controlled First Look is bred for entering dangerous places, like a building on fire, and transmitting images of what it finds to emergency responders. Last came the Looj, an elongated robot with a spinning brush on its nose, used for cleaning gutters.
As the robots roamed around the circle the children, somewhat apprehensive at first, responded with curious enthusiasm. Given an opportunity to control the Look First, several cast it as a marauding predator seeking collisions with the other robots. Several boys asked Drouin to stage a fight and he obliged accelerating the First Look, which sent the Looj tumbling.
For the fifth-graders, the robots were more toys than tools. But, some among them may one day design, build or operate robots of their own and they will remember the day when their teachers glimpsed the future in the maneuvers of what they will consider antiques.
Jake Drouin Manager of Global and Creative Production at IRobot brings out the “First Look” robot for 3rd and 5th graders at Woodland Heights Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Kindergarten students at Woodland Heights Elementary School learn about the “Looj” and the “First Look” robots from Jake Drouin with iRobot on Wednesday afternoon. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
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