Future Scientists Tour CSE

A group of preschoolers get an early look at the world of CSE.

photo of grade school children visiting CSE Enlarge

On Friday, April 10th, CSE Professors Valeria Bertacco and Todd Austin hosted a CSE visit for the preschoolers of U-M’s Towsley Children’s House.

The event was a way for the children to experience computer science in a fun and engaging way. The day started with a meet and greet from Prof. Edwin Olson through his TeleRobot, which is a semi-autonomous robot in which Olson was able to control remotely via The Netherlands and videoconference in through the machine to greet the students. The preschoolers were excited to touch the robot and watch it roam freely throughout the Beyster building. It was clear that they were excited to see that robots really do exist and the amazing things you can do by learning computer science.

Next, they were able to learn about the ENIAC that is currently displayed in the Beyster Building. The ENIAC was one of history’s early computing machines and was the first general-purpose electronic digital computer capable of being reprogrammed to solve a range of computing problems. The computer consisted of 40 panels and only one panel contained the master programmer; that panel is what is currently on display. The kids were able to learn first hand about this revolutionary achievement by listening to the history of the ENIAC and being able to touch the massive computer.

To continue the computer science tour, the students visited the APRIL Robotics Lab. The faculty and graduate students in this lab investigate autonomy, perception, robotics, and learning. The preschoolers were given the opportunity to talk to student researchers, as well as see some of the lab’s machines including Baxter and the articulating arm.

Baxter is an industrial robot with two arms and an animated face, and can be used for simple tasks like loading, unloading, and sorting, and the articulating arm is also a machine that can do similar minuscule tasks. The students played the game Connect Four with Baxter and effortlessly beat the robot. These machines were something new to the children and their enthusiasm was shown on their smiling faces.

At the end of the tour it was apparent that the outreach event was a success and that the preschoolers gained new experiences that will hopefully stay with them for years to come.