Bridging the generations with robots

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“You never outgrow curiosity,” says Tūhura Otago Museum Science Engagement Manager Jessa Barder, who is currently creating a new program to see Dunedin teenagers and seniors working together to design and create simple robots.

The ‘Wise Tech’ programme aims to build intergenerational communities through hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) engagement.

But these aren’t just the robots you might traditionally think of. It can be robots – or robotics – that solve problems, such as minicomputers programmed for use in the garden or stitched into clothing.

Barder says the pilot project is still in the early stages of participant recruitment, with sessions aiming to be well underway by term two. It will be the first time they’ve facilitated workshops targeted at both younger and older demographics working together, something they are particularly excited about.

The idea has attracted the interest of the Office for Seniors who awarded the project a grant through its Age Friendly Fund. This fund aims to support communities to become age-friendly, funding projects that promote the inclusion and contribution of older people in all aspects of community life.

Barder says the funding means the programme can invest in its own simple computers for the programme. In addition, robotics education programme provider Kiwibots has agreed to loan Wise Tech some of its robotics equipment to get started.

Barder says seniors can be left feeling confused and intimidated by technology as many of the developments are not pitched at them and the jargon can be intimidating.

“We want to break down some of these stereotypes about older people not being techie,” she says.

The teenagers and seniors will be learning together, and she believes the seniors’ life experience will bring an exciting angle to the design and development.

Anyone interested in being involved should contact Tūhura Otago Museum.

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