Inventor Rich Walker and social psychologist Dr. Bertolt Meyer brought Rex and a deep enthusiasm for robotics to the school through a program sponsored by Cablevision's Power to Learn program and the Smithsonian Channel. Several robotics students from the district's high schools, State Sen. Carl Marcellino and many others attended the program.
Before the program began, Walker and Meyer talked about what parents should know about robotics and STEM education.
"Computers have changed our lives," he said, noting how people use electronics today compared to 25 or 30 years ago. "They have changed our society. We will need people to build robots but also repair them, figure out ways to operate. Computers transform us and offer a great long-term career opportunity."
Robotics work represents everything from "Drilling holes to arguing the meaning of existence," he said.
"While there's an engineering component, there are medical, social and other applications. We can build a machine to improve people's lives."
Meyer, who served as the model for the bionic man's head, said robotics would be central tothe future. "It's becoming more diverse, more than just drilling holes. It's more ubiquitous, becoming a part of the basic fabric of society."
Walker also said the field of robotics is beginning to overcome its image as a job just for boys. "We've overcoming that. Girls are at least as good as the boys and so it's something for everyone."
And Meyer said robotics "can be very humane. It's much more than the stereotype" of a cold machine.
Walker and Meyer talked about the ability of machines to help humans, citing surgery as one area, with robotics taking on repetitive tasks. "Surgeons' knowledge is needed to operate" the robots but for routine tasks that doctors find boring, " such as stapling during surgery," machines are better. "Machines are good at tasks that people don't do well," he said. He also cited longer, wider positives, such as environmental protection. He said robots have been used to recognize weeds in fields and know to spray only a single weed instead of an entire field, cutting down on pesticide use.
One thing Rex couldn't overcome was traffic delays on the Long Island Expressway, arriving more than 90 later than planned.
Jennifer Ostrager, vice president of public affairs for Cablevision, said the company "looks forward to partnering with the Smithsonian Channel to bring exciting opportunities to schools in the area. We're proud to partnter with the School-Business Partnership of Long Island to bring the cyborg to kids excited to about it. It's activities like this that shows there’s a real world application for STEM education."
The Smithsonian Channel is showing the story of the machine's development, "The Incredible Bionic Man" Oct. 20 at 9 p.m.
The visit to Half Hollow Hills East was the first school stop for the robot in the United States.
Local high school students can also enter The Incredible Bionic Man Challenge and create a bionic body part for a chance to win a trip to the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and $5,000 for college. Two contest entrants attending school in Cablevision’s service area will be selected as finalists.
The contest runs through Nov. 7.