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Engineers Rob Figler, left, and Scott Bachman, from iRobot in Bedford, Mass., show members of the Weare Middle School Robotics Club how robots work. (Nancy Bean Foster Photo)

Weare robotics club gets a visit from iRobot


WEARE — Though they’d been in school all day, members of the newly-formed Weare Middle School Robotics Club were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when engineers from iRobot paid them a visit on Wednesday.

Engineers Rob Figler and Scott Bachman work for iRobot, a company that makes robots for use both in the home and in the field of combat.
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“We develop robots to do things that we don’t want to do,” Figler told the group of more than a dozen students in grades 5 to 8.

iRobot, based in Bedford, Mass., creates robots that do everything from cleaning a swimming pool to mopping the kitchen floor. The company’s “Roomba” is a robot that vacuums a house without any human involvement. The company also makes robots used by the military, including a new robot that can be thrown through a window and will search for enemy combatants or explosives.
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Figler and Bachman, who both live in Bedford, N.H., came to the school as part of the company’s STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Math — initiative, designed to encourage kids to consider careers in those fields. Figler said each year the company’s 500 employees are given two days to go into the community and talk to students about the importance of the work done by engineers, scientists and mathematicians.
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“It takes all different types of engineers to make robots,” said Bachman, including mechanical, electrical, computer, systems and manufacturing engineers.

Having experts in the field come and talk to the students is a huge boost for the resurrected Robotics Club, said Dr. Greg Reinert, the technology director for SAU 24, who advises the team along with teacher Angie Miller.
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The middle school had a robotics program in the past, but the two former advisors moved on, leaving the club without leadership. Miller joined the district last year, and this is Reinert’s first year, and together they are working to create a strong robotics club.
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“We would like to compete in the FIRST LEGO League competition next November,” said Miller.

The club, which meets after school and has close to 20 students participating, is a way for students to develop engineering and problem-solving skills while messing around with the robots.
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“But don’t tell them they’re learning anything,” said Reinert. “They don’t need to know that.”

Reinert said he and Miller try to break subjects like computer programming and mechanical engineering into “teeny little chunks,” that educate the kids without bogging them down and preventing them from getting their hands dirty.
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“The thing that makes it fun for them is they get to play with the robots and solve any problems that come up,” he said.

And having kids become excited about engineering is important for everyone, Reinert said.
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“Engineering is one of those fundamental things that make society work,” he said.

nfoster@newstote.com
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