New robots to roam the Westport library halls

Renee Weisz, A&E Editor

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They can walk, talk, dance, speak 19 languages, recognize faces, respond to questions, play soccer, and even do tai chi—but Nancy and Vincent aren’t a typical dynamic duo. In fact, they are The Westport Library’s newest addition of humanoid robots.

“[Humanoid robotics is] a technology that seems to be the next step after 3D printing and Lego robotics,” Bill Derry, the library director of innovations, said.

The Westport Library is the first public library in the United States to acquire complex, humanoid bots. This has caused Nancy and Vincent to become Westport’s newest celebrities among national and local newspapers and media including the “Wall Street Journal,” the “LA Times” and “Fox NY.”

“People are drawn to robots because they’re so much like us. The fact that they appear to have artificial intelligence, the fact that they learn, is special,” Derry said.

Developed by the French company Alderbaran, the robots are equipped with four HD cameras, eight microphones, 24 mobile joints, head sensors to identify objects and vocal and facial recognition software, all programmed in the computer language Python.

The library staff decided to buy the robots within three minutes of first seeing them and the funding, from Westport families, took about a month, Derry said.

The robots will teach patrons of all ages computer programming and coding skills for use with similar technologies. Beyond basic programming,the library is also planning creative competitions incorporating these skills such as robot poetry slams, robot dance contests and dramatic robot storytelling. Ultimately, Derry hopes for a final competition and awards ceremony at the fourth annual Maker Faire on April 25.

In addition to current plans for the robots, Alex Giannini, the manager of digital experience, emphasizes the role of community individuals in dictating future ideas and programs for the autonomous pair.

“The coolest thing about these is that what we have in mind for them is nowhere near as cool as what one of our patrons is going to walk in with. They’ll have a use for [the robots] that we could’ve never even imagined possible,” Giannini said.

Staples robotics team members, Phoebe Spear ’17 and Madeline Schemel ’15 share Giannini’s excitement for the growing interest in robotics and the implications they bring for the team.

“[The robots’ arrival] raises awareness for the capabilities of robotics and presents a real life application of what the robotics teams could do,” Spear said.

Schemel continued, saying, “Anything connected with robotics makes people think ‘Oh, maybe I can do that, too.’”

Everyone–Staples students, library employees and the national press included–anticipates the great feats these robots are sure to achieve.

“These guys are gonna go off in all kinds of directions,” Giannini said.

Nancy and Vincent will make their official debut at Star Wars Reads Day in the McManus room of the library, this Saturday, Oct. 11 at 11:30 AM.

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