Petting zoo lets patrons try robots

One of the kids works on a circuit creation tool.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

While a “robot petting zoo” sounds like an attraction from Disney World’s Tomorrowland, it was actually Westwood Library's way of letting members of the community explore coding toys for their children.

On Thursday night, August 15, the library brought out their Mini Spheros, Dash Robots and the Kano Harry Potter coding kit for kids ages five and up. But the kids weren’t left alone with the robots, unsure of what to do or how to operate them - they were aided by teen volunteers (or "volunteens," as they're called at the library) who had already been taught how to use the robots to the full extent of their abilities.

Kristy Pasquariello, a children’s librarian, explained that the main reason the library bought the robots was to allow people to get some hands-on experience with them - and the petting zoo provided the perfect opportunity for that.

“We bought robots for the library, so that the people of Westwood could have a chance to see how some of these robots work, and play with them, before they consider buying them for their homes," she explained. "We bought a Dash and Dot, which is like a beginning coding toy, we bought some Sphero Mini robots, which you work with an iPad to learn some basic coding techniques as you operate them. The idea for the petting zoo was that people could come and play with them, see how they work, and just get the feel.”

The volunteens, meanwhile, were doing all sorts of neat things with the robots to get the kids’ attention.

A group of boys set up an obstacle course of blocks and used an iPad to carefully maneuver a robotic sphere around the maze.

One of the robots was dancing to music being played by another robot that plays the xylophone.

A couple of girls were using an iPad to show a young boy how the robot would play whatever keys they programmed it to.

One of the volunteens, Jack Dullea, read a prepared statement from the group about the day, declaring: “It’s so fun being able to empower kids with the knowledge of computer science. It brings us joy to help kids spread their wings and soar.”

While a “robot petting zoo” may sound more Westworld than Westwood, on the 15th, the library allowed the town's parents to explore whether their kids are old enough, or intrigued enough, to warrant buying a coding robot.

Whether or not they “spread their wings and soared” was up to time and the kids - but they sure seemed to be having a lot of fun.

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