It wasn’t the latest scene from Ironman, but Robots were seen rolling down the halls at Freedom Elementary school on January 17. As the Packbot iRobot rumbled into the school and down the hall, students, teachers, and staff all peered out of offices and classrooms to see who was visiting them that morning. Twenty-five LEAP (Learning Enrichment and Acceleration Program) students from Kindergarten through 8th grade were fully engaged for over an hour as Bruce Archambault the Army Business Manager at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, demonstrated three multi-use robots.

Vicki Thomas (grades K-2), Linda Scheidemantel (grades 3-5) and Diane Davis (grades 6-8) are the LEAP instructors for the Waynesville school district and Rebecca Tate is the Waynesville Robotic Club Student Director. Mrs. Parker volunteers and is the LEAP coordinator for the Waynesville schools.

Tickets were given to all the students and teachers for a chance to win pens, model robots, Engineer magazines, or the highly anticipated chance to operate the robots. Everyone was given a prize and walked away happy!

Up first was the iRobot “First Look” or the “Throwbot” as it is virtually indestructible and can be thrown through windows, into buildings, down stairs and dropped up to 16 feet onto rock or concrete surfaces. After a few opening comments, and a short demonstration of the 8 inch long, 5 pound, toy-like robot, the students started to ask questions. “How fast can it go?”, “What does it cost?”, “What can it do?” were a few of the first answers the students and teachers wanted. The First Look has a top speed of about 4 miles per hour, costs approximately $20,000, has four cameras on board, can automatically right itself if it lands upside down, has infra-red capabilities (it can see in the dark), and is water-resistant in up to six inches of water. Several numbers were drawn and students lined up to operate the very easy to use, game boy like controls. They all seemed to appreciate the numerous military applications this robot has.

Need a gift for mom for her birthday? Or need something to help clean your bedroom while you are studying for your next test? The iRobot Roomba might be the answer. Simply press the button on top and this 16 inch diameter light weight vacuum will wander about the room doing all the work for you. A small pile of shredded paper was soon gone as the Roomba bounced its way around the classroom.

The much anticipated Packbot was the third and final robot to come out and the students all had questions and wanted to operate this as well. It is a medium sized robot, weighing approximately 30 pounds and is about two feet long. One of its many features it has is the ability to climb stairs. It has four cameras, able to get a 360 degree view, which was shown as it caught a couple kids not paying attention and talking to each other! One of the key features on the Packbot is the 6 foot arm with the grapple hook and pincers. Obviously, this can be used for many purposes and engineers in combat prefer to send this out to interrogate mines and IEDs, rather than send a Soldier.

Why would we show these students robots? Shouldn’t they be in the classroom learning? The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program shows that hands on learning and the demonstrations get students interested in hard science and math at an early age and increases the chance these gifted students will pursue a science, engineering or math degree in college.

This demonstration was presented in anticipation of the annual district science fair, scheduled for February 21st, which will be held at the Waynesville Career Center. The students have completed classes that teach the scientific method and are preparing the proposals for their exhibits. Students in 5th through 8th grade are eligible to enter at their local school and the winners will be judged beginning at 5:30 p.m. on the night of February 21st.

The annual District Science Fair is sponsored by Missouri S&T, the Rotary Club of Pulaski County and The Fort Leonard Wood Chapter of the Society of American Military Engineers. If you would like more information, please contact MAJ Chris Wenner at (573) 563-4018 or Kymberly McCall at (573) 774-6106.