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Kids learn work is fun at GE Global Research

Star of the day Baxter the robot shows off variety of skills

Friday, May 3, 2013
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As part of Friday's “Bring Your Child to Work Day” in Niskayuna at the GE Global Research campus, a young girl plays with Baxter, a robot that can sort and pack things.  (Ricki D. Shapiro, GE Global Research)
As part of Friday's “Bring Your Child to Work Day” in Niskayuna at the GE Global Research campus, a young girl plays with Baxter, a robot that can sort and pack things. (Ricki D. Shapiro, GE Global Research)

— Third-grader Rita Connolly got her science lesson without stepping into the classroom on Friday.

At the GE Global Research center campus in Niskayuna, she was exposed to a robot, a computer that detects gender and mood and liquid nitrogen experiments as part of the company’s “Bring Your Child to Work Day.”

Eight-year-old Connolly was all smiles after having her face scanned to confirm she was a girl. But part of the fun was what she got to miss, saying, “I would be having a test [in school].”

That’s not the only advantage of having a father who is an event planner for GE Global Research. As her brother, 10-year-old Luke Connolly, said, “I have the best birthday parties.”

Even though his shaggy red hair confused the computer trying to assess his gender, Luke was still having a great time and excited to meet Baxter, a robot that was captivating children and their parents.

Small children and their parents huddled around Baxter, which used its bulky red arms to arrange blocks. It was given a humanoid personality with a computer screen, where a person’s head would be, which displayed two blue eyes and eyebrows.

Balajee Kannan, a senior cyber physical systems architect who was overseeing Baxter, explained that the robot is one of a few different robots GE Global Research is considering for a surgical automation project with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The robot could potentially be used for sorting surgical tools, packing and sterilization.

One of Baxter’s important skills was on display after bouncing into the forehead of a small child. “If he feels someone touch him it will stop,” Kannan said.

But Baxter already knew people were around him, as he is equipped with a sonar ring around his head that detects movement and prompts him to act more slowly.

Children played with the Baxter, helping stack blocks and moving them around on the table in front of him. The easy interactions is also part GE Global Research’s goal, as Kannan said they want people to feel comfortable around the robots.

“This is fun,” Kannan said of the hands-on demonstration. “This is why we do it. The kids love it and the parents love it even more than the kids do.”

Also going on Friday was a chance to learn about lights, which included a chance to play with glow-in-the-dark paint. Also, a glassblower gave a demonstration and a water jet was used to cut through metal.

Alex Signell, 11, of Long Lake, got a souvenir after learning about liquid nitrogen. He watched a frozen racquetball get shattered and then got to keep a piece of the blue ball when it was safe to touch. “It was pretty cool,” he said of the experience.

The day was also a chance for him to spend time with his step-mom at work, something Signell said he wanted to do more of, despite not having a good grasp on what she does for GE Global Research. “She works with different material and stuff,” he explained.

The day ended with remarks from Floris Jansen, a chief scientist in imaging systems, whose four children were too old for this year’s event. Kannan also didn’t have any children at this year’s event, but has a child on the way. He said his first child will soon make an appearance at the office.

 
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