Set out a bunch of robots on the floor and watch kids instantly gravitate to them.
That was the scene recently as Monterey Hills Elementary School hosted its annual robotics night in the multipurpose room on campus.
Mija Matarić, a USC professor who conducts research in robotics, was back for her 17th year teaching the young minds, talking about the importance of coding and programming. Robotic technology has progressed significantly, extending its reach across many industries, to build cars, support surgeries in hospitals, help clean homes, make businesses function better, prepare food in restaurants and much more while becoming an increasingly common sight.
And ready to take advantage of future opportunities for growth were kids like those interacting with the dozens of robots at Monterey Hills School on this night.
“We need a lot of young people to go into engineering to do this kind of work,” said Matarić, a mom of three past and present MHS students. One is currently enrolled in the 5th grade, another attends South Pasadena High School and a third goes to Stanford University.
As part of the assembly at Monterey Hills School, Matarić and a small group USC PhD students brought along a robot to help children with autism improve their social skills. She showed another robot that helps motivate children’s learning. In the corner of the auditorium, the professor pointed out that a robot has been designed to get the elderly “up and moving around,” she explained. “In my research at USC, we create robots to help people help themselves – exercise, eat better, rehabilitation …wherever the biggest need is.”
Some robots, she noted, are even artistic and can paint.
There’s something about robots and kids that draws a crowd. Parents and grandparents looked on in amazement, some intrigued watching the students work with the robots, having them perform a myriad of tasks.
“It’s wonderful, I love it,” said Matarić, noting she’s glad to bring her expertise to elementary school children, witnessing their excitement for gaining knowledge. “It has been such a joy. The kids are awesome.”
Her USC students with engineering interests also seemed to like the interaction with the kids.
“They really care about outreach and that’s why they are here,” said Matarić. “I bring a lot of different robots so kids can be inspired.”
Matarić send boundless information about robotics for young people can be found on the web. She also encouraged parents to sign up their kids up for camps in any number of topics this summer at USC, adding proudly with a laugh, “It’s a great university.”