Robot the newest addition to academy's classroom

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News,Science and Technology

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The newest teacher at the Hutchinson school district's Career and Technical Education Academy can demonstrate tai chi moves and also display a little bathroom humor.

It's Nao, the robot.

In 2012, the district received a grant worth $21,785 from Cargill Corporation for the robot acquisition.

It arrived around the first of March and both instructor Steve Stacey and four advanced programming students are getting acquainted with the walking, talking Japanese-manufactured robot that came with the name Nao.

"He can do anything we program him to do," Stacey said.

Last week when The News visited Stacey's classroom, Nao not only was the topic of conversation, he also joined in the conversation - with the help of quick-witted students positioned at computers.

"Would you like to see me dance?" Nao asked.

"No," said Stacey.

"Fine, then," Nao said.

When Nao asked Stacey if he liked chocolate, Stacey answered, "No."

Nao came back with: "Do you even have taste buds?" That line, written by sophomore Gage Brown, caused Stacey to crack up with laughter.

When The News asked Stacey about the absence of girls in the class, Stacey began explaining how it "has always been a challenge" to get girls in engineering-related classes.

"Girls do not like robots that much, I guess," observed Nao, uttering words Thomas Clark, a junior, had typed on the computer.

Brown's technical skills are behind Nao's "I need a poop" routine, incorporating moves and language.

Nao, weighing 9.8 pounds and standing 23.5 inches tall, is equipped with a lithium battery, although he usually is plugged in. A camera, sensors, and microphones are part of his anatomy. His "ears" are speakers.

"We can change pitch and tone on it," Stacey said of Nao's voice, which now sounds youthful. At some point, Nao will be renamed, probably something befitting a high school with a Salthawk mascot.

Interaction with a robot will be an asset on a resume, Stacey said.

It also gives students a taste of an engineering field before they head to college or pick a career path, he said.

Enrollment for the program next year has risen, according to Career and Technical Education Academy staff.

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Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com

AP KANSAS PANORAMA

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