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Technology: A way of life

By Greg Gelpi

Don't be the fry guy.

Education and technology can lift a person from mediocre low-paying jobs to more adventurous high-paying jobs, technology expert Jack Burrus told students at Lee Street Elementary.

Burrus demonstrated educational robots and stressed how technology is becoming more prevalent in everyday life.

About four years ago, Burrus ordered a drink at a fast food restaurant in South Bend, Ind. To his surprise, a robotic arm prepared his drink on a conveyer belt.

The difference between the person who works in a fast food restaurant and the one who repairs the robots that operate a fast food restaurant is the difference between making $7 an hour and $70 an hour, Burrus said. A robot to cook French fries is already being tested.

And his presentation made an impression on the fourth and fifth graders who attended the talk.

"I want to take technology classes in college," 11-year-old Eric Hinton said. "I want to be a mechanic and build cars."

Burrus said robots are used a great deal in the manufacturing of automobiles, calling Detroit the robot capital of the country. The average car sells for about $20,000, but would sell for about $100,000 if not for the money saved by robots, he said.

Hinton experienced a robot's ability to "see" during the program. Using sonar, Burrus' robot bounced high-pitched sounds waves off Hinton to determine the distance between the robot and himself.

Burrus also showed how robots can hear, detect motion and learn.

Nicole Walton, 10, held a short conversation with the HERO robot, while the robot "spoke" each time Bianca Phillips, 10, moved as part of a demonstration. Diontaye White, 9, had his nose pinched as the robot was programmed and learned how to find his nose and give it a squeeze.

The first robot was built in the 1950s, Burrus said. In 2001, robots became a billion times more advanced, and they will be 100 billion times more advanced by the time the students graduate from college.

In order to keep up, students must learn reading, math and the fundamentals in grade school, Burrus said. The fundamentals prepare students to operate, program and even design robots when they become adults.

"You have to know numbers, and be able to manipulate those numbers," he said.

The program was part of Lee Street Elementary Principal Cassandra Hopkins' efforts to motivate her students and get them thinking about college at a young age, she said.

She asked the students at the program to write about what they learned and how it impacted their plans for college and the future.

"When we were thinking about what we were missing, we realized we just need to motivate them," Hopkins said.