Carroll County residents are welcome to visit Exploration Commons in the Westminster public library branch Saturday to meet Pepper, a social humanoid robot who will help their coding dreams come to life.
Pepper, who lives at the Carroll County Public Library system’s Westminster branch at 50 E. Main St., is capable of customizable interactions and gestures through coding, using Choregraphe, a coding language similar to Python.
Anyone 12 and older can learn how to program Pepper in a class taught by Makerspace supervisor Amanda Krumrine from 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday. The class is free, although there are just eight spots and registration is required. Krumrine said the small class size means attendees get hands-on instruction and more time with Pepper.
Pepper has movable arms and fingers, but no feet, standing more than 3 feet tall. She can pivot in any direction but cannot move around. Pepper’s eyes light up to show when she is responsive to dialogue, a screen on Pepper’s body can be programed to display images to match the content of a conversation and an array of 40 preset gestures — ranging from air guitar to referee signaling — make Pepper come to life.
“It’s cool to see your code actually come to life on a robot instead of just the screen,” Krumrine said. “That’s an added benefit to the Coding with Pepper program.”
Carroll County became the second library system to acquire a Pepper robot, designed as an educational tool, in 2018. The robot was purchased using $25,550 in grant funding from the Maryland State Library Agency and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Carroll was the first library system to open up programming classes with Pepper to the public, at which time she became a leading technology resource, according to Lisa Picker, director of communications for county libraries. The version of Pepper in the Makerspace has met former Gov. Larry Hogan, Sen. Ben Cardin and former Attorney General Brian Frosh.
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Candace Birger, manager of Exploration Commons, said the Coding with Pepper class is a great way for beginners or more advanced coding students to have fun and learn a new set of skills.
“A really big benefit to the Pepper program is that you’re actually operating something here in real time and can test coding and see what’s working and what’s not, and maybe find a passion that you didn’t know you had,” Birger said.
Tawyna Haddock, 40, of Westminster brought her sons, Tristan, 12, and Nathaniel, 9, to participate in a previous Coding with Pepper class. She said the coding process was well-explained and easy to grasp, especially for anyone with some experience in coding, like her sons.
“I’ve always liked robots and stuff,” Tristan said, “and I wanted to make robots and code them.”
Students in the class select and assemble pieces of code, such as building blocks, to create custom responses from Pepper. When tasked with making Pepper answer a yes-or-no question, Tristan programmed a sad emotion for “no” and an air saxophone solo for “yes.” Tristan said he would be thrilled to take the class another time, if given the opportunity.
One past student programmed Pepper to interact with humans as if the robot was a server at a restaurant, Krumrine said, and Pepper has been programmed to greet those entering the Exploration Commons in the past. The possibilities are endless, she said.
“The idea is that with enough practice, you could actually build what seems like a more natural conversation between you and the robot,” Krumrine said.