Robots charm pupils

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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



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.

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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)

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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)

Dirty dishes: Inmate labor in county home kitchen not working out as hoped for


LACONIA — Because the use of inmate labor as dishwashers in the kitchen is not working out well, Belknap County Commissioners have authorized the hiring of four part-time employees for the kitchen at the Belknap County Nursing Home.
Carolee Sliker, dietary manager at the nursing home, said that a pilot program over the last few weeks in which inmates are being paid $3 a day for work in the kitchen has seen "a parade of inmates coming through the kitchen who have behavior issues and do not want to work."
She sad that those who do want to work and do a good job are quickly lost as they qualify for work release programs, requiring the cooks to be constantly train new inmates, which she said involves paying overtime for the cooks.
"We are missing silverware because they do not want to sort it. Very often the dishes and pots and pans are not clean and have to be rewashed. Overtime is being used because he cooks can not get out on time and need to stay with the inmates." she wrote in her report. "Using inmates in the kitchen is not working. My staff and I are not trained Correctional Officers and the kitchen is not a rehabilitation center." She said that some of the inmates, who are escorted up to the kitchen by the Corrections Department officers, "are stealing things and working really slow and don't want to be here."
She proposed replacing the inmates who work in the kitchen evenings with her own staff from 4 to 7 p.m. and hiring four part-time dishwashers who would be cross-trained as dietary aides so they could help serves the residents at supper.
She said that hiring the part-timers would cost $40,000 a year which translates into an additional $20,000 for the rest of this year and that funds would have to be transferred for that purpose.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that while some parts of the CORE program at the corrections facility are working out it is obvious that the kitchen work for inmates is not. Commissioners agreed to Sliker's plan to hire part-timers for the kitchen when they met Wednesday morning.
Sliker has said previously that she is concerned about inmate labor and a possible shortage when the new community corrections center opens next year and the majority of inmates are involved in programs which would mean they would not be available for kitchen dish washing.
She says that in the future the county needs to be looking at replacing other inmates who work in the kitchen with four full-time staff members, which she said would cost $208,000 a year.

Sanborton man charged with raping child

SANBORNTON — Police have charged a local man with three counts of rape after an investigation into statements made by a girl to an employee of the state Division of Children, Youth and Families.

After appearing by video in the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division, a judge ordered Michael H. Lennox, 47, of 21 Patriot Lane be held on $75,000 cash-only pending his probable cause hearing on May 23.

He is charged with three penetration-type counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault on his victim who was between the ages of 9 and 12 when the assault occurred in the 2010 to 2012 time period.

Sanbornton Lt. Prosecutor Kevin McIntosh said Lennox was represented by an attorney who asked that his client be allowed a corporate surety component to his bail order.

He said he objected because of the severity of the crime and that it was a crime of opportunity in which Lennox allegedly preyed on a young girl who was living in his home at the time.

McIntosh said the Sanbornton Police were assisted in their investigation by the Tilton Police Department and the Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center.

– Gail Ober