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Google Donates 500 Finch Robots to the Chicago Public Library

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Google has donated 500 Finch robots to the Chicago Public Library, CBS 2 and the Associated Press (A.P.) reported. [The Times of Northwest Indiana, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Sacramento Bee, and Bloomington’s Pentagraph.com ran the A.P. story, as did the Web sites of ABC 7, NBC 5, and FOX 32.] Patrons can borrow them like books, DVDs, and CDs.

The unidentified A.P. journalist explained, “The idea is to give Chicago residents of all ages a chance to dabble in the basics of computer coding. The gadgets, known as Finch Robots, were donated by Google Chicago and made the library the first in the nation to have them available for people to take home.”

They can be coded to move, make noises, light up and even draw. Some of the programming can be done by children as young as 8 years old.

WBBM News Radio’s Nancy Harty, who covered the story for the Web site of sister stations CBS 2 and WBBM News Radio, explicated, “Google is paying $50,000 to have 500 of the robots available at six public library branches or through the lending system.”[1] The C.P.L. is the first library in the U.S. to lend out The Finch. Ms. Harty, the unidentified A.P. writer, and blogger Kim Moldofsky noted that Finch robots were developed by Carnegie Mellon University.

On her blog, TheMakerMom.com, Ms. Moldofsky wrote, “Finch Robots were developed at Carnegie-Mellon University to provide a user-friendly introduction to programming. They are coded with a Scratch-like program called Snap. Indeed, the visual drag and drop interface makes it a snap to program these cute little guys.”

The 500 robots will be available for lending/borrowing throughout the Chicago Public Library system. Individual (adult) patrons and teachers will be able to check them out. There will be six branches that house the robots, but they will be sent out to other branches on request. Patrons can check them out to take home individually or in packs of five, which makes them ideal for youth groups and classrooms. This also makes it easy to for parents to host a coding club or party.

Chicago Digital – also known as Digital Hub | Chicago Mayor’s Office, not to be confused with the marketing company Chicago Digitalstated, “The easy-to-use Finch Robots are programmable devices that can move, make noises, light up, and even draw, allowing students to bring computer coding to life. Using the Finch, students as young as eight years old can learn the basics of coding in over a dozen programming languages and environments in a fun, interactive way.”

Offering Finch Robots at Chicago Public Library is another step towards Mayor Emanuel’s goal of providing STEM education for Chicagoans of all ages and making 21st century job skills like computer programming accessible across the city. The robots can be checked out individually or in packs of five, making it easy for teachers or community organizations working with larger groups to take advantage of the state-of-the-art technology.

Any adult patron of the Library can check out a robot, either at one of the six CPL locations where the robots are housed, or through the Library’s holds system using chipublib.org.

Ms. Harty related that the announcement took place at the Northtown Branch of the Chicago Public Library in West Rogers Park. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Library Commissioner Brian Bannon attended the event, as depicted in a photograph on Ms. Moldofsky’s blog.

The Associated Press cited Jim Lecinski, Vice President, Sales, the head of Google Chicago, as saying, "We hope to inspire the next generation of technologists and computer scientists."

Marketed as The Finch: A Robot Designed for Computer Science Education, it was invented in Carnegie Mellon University’s Community Robotics Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab after four years of study, as explained on The Finch’s Web site and the CREATE Lab’s Web site. BirdBrain Technologies, LLC produces The Finch under license from Carnegie Mellon University and sells The Finch online for $99 each, but offers a discount for those purchasing in bulk.

The company explains the history and purpose of The Finch in this video on YouTube. This is the first product from BirdBrain Technologies, LLC.

Tom Lauwers, Ph.D. founded the company in 2010. As a doctoral student in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he worked in The Robotics Institute’s CREATE Lab.

BirdBrain Technology, LLC states, “It is the goal of BirdBrain Technologies LLC, to take research in educational tools and make that research useful to the educational community. Usefulness requires several things: A reliable source for the hardware tool and accompanying software, detailed technical documentation, and example curricula. For each product released through BirdBrain Technologies, we create documentation, curricular materials, community-oriented websites, and detailed tutorials. Our aim is to create products with a low barrier to entry, so that parents, teachers, and students can focus their time on using our products in creative and fun ways.”

The CREATE Lab states, “The Finch is made to easily integrate into high school and college CS [computer science] courses.”

[1] Note that a graphic which seemed to suggest it led to a digital recording of Ms. Harty’s story as I presume it sounded on the radio, instead led to a news story of John Cody’s about dogs being susceptible to Leptospirosis when I checked it early on the morning of Sunday, April 11, 2014.

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