The age of the Jetsons has finally arrived.
They have blinking eyes and an unnerving way of looking quizzically in the direction of whoever is speaking. They walk, dance and can talk in 19 different languages. About the height of a toddler, they look like bigger, better-dressed cousins of Buzz Lightyear.
And soon, “Vincent” and “Nancy” will be buzzing around the Westport Library, where officials next week will announce the recent acquisition of the pair of humanoid “NAO Evolution” robots. Their primary purpose: to teach the kind of coding and computer-programming skills required to animate such machines.
While it isn’t unusual for public libraries to offer instruction in programming or robotics, Westport is the first in the nation to do it with sophisticated humanoid bots made by the French robotics firm Aldebaran. In a brief demonstration last week, Alex Giannini, the library’s digital-experience manager, had Vincent kicking a small soccer ball, doing tai chi and taking bows.
“Robotics is the next disruptive technology coming into our lives and we felt it was important to make it accessible to people so they could learn about it,” said Maxine Bleiweis, executive director of the Westport Library. “From an economic-development perspective and job- and career-development perspective, it’s so important.”
Under Ms. Bleiweis’s leadership, Westport has made it a priority to provide public access to innovative new technology. For example, Westport was among the first public libraries in Connecticut to acquire a 3-D printer three years ago, and to create a “maker” space, an area where patrons of all ages can try out equipment, dabble in computer coding or work individually, or collaboratively, to create DIY technology.
Westport isn’t the only public library with robots. In May, the Chicago Public Library, in partnership with Google Inc., GOOGL +0.26% made 500 “Finch” robots available to patrons at six of its branches. The dot-eyed, half-domed machines, the size of dinner plate on wheels, are also used to teach computer programming and coding.