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Cool things you can do with the Chicago Public Library's rentable robots

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Earlier this month, the Chicago Public Library added a new item to the list of things Chicago citizens can check out from their local library branches–Robots!

Thanks to a donation from Google Chicago, the CPL now has 500 Finch robots in stock, available for any library card wielding citizen who wants to check them out. The Finch Robot, a tough, frog-like machine with wheels, lights and various kinds of sensors, is an experimental platform that kids and adults can use to teach themselves both about robotics and computer programming. The Finch is compatible with multiple programming languages, and by plugging it into your computer you can program it to do certain tasks or provide you with data.

But what can you program a Finch robot to do for you? As it turns out, several very cool and useful things. Here are four different ways you can use an Finch Robot for your day to day needs, either by running or modifying sample programs downloaded from the Finch website.

(The example programs cited in this article are all Python-based, due to Python being a commonly used and intuitive programming language. Younger or more inexperienced computer programmers may wish to start with educational languages like Scratch or Snap!™.)

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First, download the sample programs and the Python-based operating system from the downloads section of the Finch website. Next, run the sample programs using one of two approaches:

The first approach is to download the latest version of Python from it's website, and open the IDLE application included with it, which allows you to view, edit, and run Python programs. To run a sample program (all of which have a “.py” file designation in their name), open it with IDLE, click on the “Run” drop down menu, and then click 'Run Module'.

Alternately, you can run the programs directly from your computer terminal. After opening your Terminal, navigate to the file in which the Python sample programs are stored using the “cd” command (If you wanted to get to the FinchPython120 file that was located in your downloads folder, for instance, you would type “cd Downloads”, then “cd FinchPython120”). Once you've navigated to the file with the sample programs, type in the command “Python” plus the name of the sample program to run it (for example, “python dance.py”).

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The Finch has a small yet effective temperature sensor mounted on the top of it's head, which can give precise temperature readings in Celcius. If you need to figure out how hot or cold a room in your home is, you can check out a Finch robot from the library and use it as a thermometer.

The Python sample program “testfinchfunctions.py” is designed to test the Finch's sensors, motors, audio and lights, and if run, will give a temperature reading of the surrounding atmosphere.

To simply get a temperature reading from your Finch, open a new window in IDLE, type the following code, then run it as you would the sample programs:

from time import sleep
from finch import Finch

finch = Finch()
print('Temperature %5.2f' % finch.temperature())
print()

finch.halt()
finch.close()

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The Finch robot also contains an accelerometer, which measures the Finch's orientation in units of gees (the force of the Earth's gravity), determining it's position in the x, y, and z axes. As a result, the Finch robot can double as a level for people doing construction or woodworking at home. Simple place the Finch on top of the surface you want to measure, plug it into the computer, and run the “testfinchfunctions.py” program. If you just want to measure orientation without this sample program's extra features, type up and run this:

from time import sleep
from finch import Finch

finch = Finch()
x, y, z, tap, shake = finch.acceleration()
print ('Acceleration %5.3f, %5.3f %5.3f %s %s' %
              (x, y, z, tap, shake))

finch.halt()
finch.close()

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The sample program called “alarm.py”, predictably enough, causes the Finch robot to emmit loud beeping noises, noises that doesn't stop until you pick the robot up and set it on it's tail. This Python sample program is perfectly suited to turning your Finch robot into an alarm clock/timer, save for the fact that it doesn't have a timer function.

This oversight can be rectified by inserting the line “sleep()” command in between “finch=Finch()” and x=0. The “sleep()” command delays a Finch Python program from executing based on the number of seconds you enter into the parentheses. 9600 seconds equals around 8 hours, making the modified sample program below a perfect way to get up early in the morning!


from time import sleep
from finch import Finch

finch = Finch()

sleep(9600)
x = 0
while x > -0.5:
    x, y, z, tap, shake = finch.acceleration()

    finch.led("#FF0000") # set the led to red
    finch.buzzer(1.0, 250)
    sleep(1.05)
    finch.led("#0000FF") # set the led to blue
    finch.buzzer(

finch.halt()
finch.close()

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The back of the Finch Robot has a small slot that you can tape pencils, pens and markers to. By inputing commands that cause the Finch's wheels to spin forward or backwards, you can propel the robot around a piece of paper, drawing images or precise diagrams. Best of all, you only need to know two commands to control the Finch robot this way.

The command “finch.wheels( , )” controls the speed of each motor (the number 1 equals full speed, and .5 is half speed) and the direction they go in (add a minus sign to a motor number to make it spin backwards). The “ sleep()” command, inserted right below the “finch.wheels( , )”wheels command, determines how long it lasts in seconds.

In the example program below, the Finch robot moves forward quickly, then turns left and right slowly, all of this over the course of five seconds.

from time import sleep
from finch import Finch

finch = Finch()

finch.wheels(1,1)
sleep(2)

finch.wheels(-0.5,0.5)
sleep(1.5)

finch.wheels(0.5,-0.5)
sleep(1.5)

finch.halt()
finch.close()

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