Bridging the Opportunity Divide

The Robots That Are Rebooting Public Libraries

October 7, 2014
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The Robots That Are Rebooting Public Libraries
NAO Evolution robots are equipped with cameras, microphones and motion sensors. Youtube/NAO Evolution
The newest librarians are quite tech savvy.

Nancy and Vincent are the latest additions to the Westport, Conn. library staff, but they aren’t stamping return dates in books.

Instead, they’re speaking 19 languages and teaching children about the coding and computer programming that goes into designing and building robots like them.

Alex Gianni is the library’s new digital-experience manager and in a recent demonstration, showed off the pair’s soccer and tai chi skills.

“Equipped with two cameras, four microphones, motion sensors and sonar to detect walls,” these NAO Evolution robots (created by Aldebaran, a French firm) are much more advanced than the cheaper and more popular Finch machines incorporated into the Chicago Public Library system earlier this year. “They look like Sharper Image playthings, but they’re insanely complicated,” says Giannini.

According the library’s executive director, Maxine Bleiweis, “Robotics is the next disruptive technology coming into our lives, and we felt it was important to make it accessible to people so they could learn about it.”

Findings from the Pew Research Center agree with her. In a report from 2013, “81 percent of Americans say public libraries provide services they would have a hard time finding elsewhere.”

Ms. Bleiweis is all about the big picture. Three years ago, her library was one of the first to feature 3-D printing and to create a “maker space,” where patrons are invited to have fun and experiment with new technologies. “From an economic-development perspective and job- and career-development perspective, it’s so important,” says Bleiweis.

Bill Derry, the library’s assistant director for innovation, says that it’s planning a series of events to familiarize the community with the robots, plus hold programming competitions. “Our goal is to push it as far as we can and shed light on people who are thinking, experimenting and producing to inspire them to go even farther.”

Gianni finishes the thought: “I don’t know what the coolest functionality is going to be…Someone coming in off the street is probably going to teach us that.”

 

 

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