Updated 2 months ago
SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. (AP) - In her first few weeks at Bullitt Lick Middle School, KATE has become quite popular.
Students at the school enjoy hanging out with her because she is easy to talk to and has a firm grasp on pop culture. She knows all the dance moves to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and can recite the "Star Wars" saga with ease.
But KATE - her name is short for Kentucky's Automated Technology Educator - isn't your typical middle-schooler; she's a robot on loan from Murray State University, and she's helping a class of about 30 seventh- and eighth-grade students learn about robotics.
"The kids are taking to it really quickly," said Keith Barnes, Bullitt County Public Schools' technology integration specialist.
Bullitt Lick is the first Kentucky school to use the Nao (pronounced "now") robot, a programmable humanoid robot developed by a French robotics company, Barnes said. Students in Shaun McIntosh's robotics class are programming KATE to dance, perform trailers of popular movies and teach elementary school students.
"They've been able to show their creativity," said McIntosh, who learned about robotics during his 13 years in the Army.
When Murray State announced this summer that it would buy the $25,000 robot and lend it to school districts across the state, Barnes immediately volunteered the district and was able to get KATE for nine weeks.
Barnes and McIntosh learned how to use the robot and its programming software over the summer, and students have quickly acclimated themselves with KATE and the software. McIntosh uploaded programs engineered by graduate students that make KATE able to recite the "Star Wars" plot and dance to "Thriller."
"It's been fun to learn new things and to just explore" the robot's capabilities, said eighth-grader Bob Belcher, who, along with a handful of other students, is programming it to recite a trailer for the upcoming movie "Ender's Game."
Programming KATE is a multifaceted endeavor for students. They can train her to recite phrases and interact with people using the software and program certain movements by physically moving her and saving her actions to a hard-drive.
McIntosh said he plans to have students perform the robot's lesson plans, dances and movie trailers at a fall showcase.
Some students are programming KATE to do the Harlem Shake dance, while another group of students is preparing her to co-teach the water cycle at nearby Shepherdsville Elementary School.
"She's going to sing a song about the water-cycle," said eighth-grader Triston Hillard, who plans to pursue a career in robotics.
Triston will further her knowledge of robotics when she enrolls in Bullitt Central High School next year. Bullitt Central began offering a robotics course this school year, and although Bullitt Lick feeds into the high school, its new robotics class has nothing to do with the middle school's acquisition of KATE.
"It's kind of serendipity, I guess," Barnes said.
Eighth-grader Jenna Hardin spent most of a recent class training KATE to shoot an imaginary bow and arrow as she recites the plot from "The Hunger Games."
"She's going to tell the story of ("The Hunger Games' " main character) Katniss Everdeen," Jenna said, adding that her experience on the school's archery team helped nail down the bow and arrow motions.
The classes are typically informal, McIntosh said, because students are learning about the robot and software and different paces. Most of the groups work on the software in the school's library and alternate using KATE.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)