May 15, 2014

Forget about books–Chicago Public Library lets you check out robots


The Finch

About to be manhandled by children

The role of the public library is changing, of course, but who knew it was changing so fast? The Associated Press reports that the future is indeed upon us at the Chicago Public Library, where, in addition to their many books, there are now 500 programmable robots available for checkout.

It’s tempting to be the old fart who insists that reading is fun and robots are children of the devil, but there’s actually some educational value to be found here. Invented by Carnegie Mellon University and donated by Google Chicago, these so-called Finch Robots are tools to teach and practice computer programming. They are compatible with over a dozen of the most common computer languages, and, with the help of a home computer can be coded to light up, move around, and draw pictures. Some of this programming is even simple enough for elementary school-age children.

“We hope to inspire the next generation of technologists and computer scientists,” explains Jim Lecinski, head of the Google Chicago office. “Getting students excited about computer science at the primary and secondary school level is critical.” Left unsaid is the fact that, once grown, these future techies will probably have no choice but to work for Google, which will have taken over the world. But we can forgive Google for being self-serving in light of all the benefits of the Finch.

Like it or not, computer programming is one of the most important skills for members of our society going forward. The introduction of the Finch is concurrent with a nationwide push to bring computer science classes to students of all ages, and these robots actualize those skills into something that is tangible and fun. According to the Finch’s website, they’ve even been shown to increase student retention rate when included in a school’s curriculum.

So, maybe I shouldn’t hate the Chicago Public Library for not being the dust-encrusted tome cellar that I want it to be. And, as hard as it is, maybe I shouldn’t roll my eyes at the Cincinnati Public Library for getting a 3-D printer. In the spirit of technology and the death of the written word, here’s a video explaining everything you need to know about the Finch: