The tablet computer controls the small, ball-shaped Sphero robot—all part of the gadgets Allegan District Library showed off on Saturday. It will offer programs starting in March to learn more how to use and program them. (Photo by Ryan Lewis)Pictured admiring the library’s 3-D printer are (from left) Raecale Stull, Hope Lambert and Laik Stull, all of Allegan. The printer is assembling a small boat figurine. (Photo by Ryan Lewis)

Allegan District Library unveils robots, tech for STEM programs

Ryan Lewis, Editor

Small robots whirred, spun, zigged and zagged in the Carnegie Room at Allegan District Library on Saturday, Jan. 6.

The library hosted an open house to unveil its upcoming program, “ADL Labs!,” which will feature a variety of robotics and tech programming experiences for youth. Classes begin in March.

The program was made possible by an $8,250 Perrigo Foundation grant.

In addition to some software, the grant enabled the library to purchase several sets of robots, designed to be programmed and used by different age groups.

Children on Saturday had the chance to test out most of them.

Some used a tablet computer to maneuver a Sphero—a translucent, baseball-sized robot—down a lane to hit some bowling pins.

Alan Smith, the library’s technology coordinator, said the programs would build on that experience, inviting the participants to later program the Spheros to roll around corners and behind obstacles to hit the pins.

Those pins, by the way, were created using another of the library’s new additions: a 3-D printer.

Library assistant director Devon Erlandson said staff had gone to visit Lake Michigan College’s Benton Harbor campus maker space to see what would work best for Allegan.

“We picked their brains,” she said. “We ultimately got the same 3-D printer they had there. They loved it.”

The printer is about a yard tall and 1.5 feet wide. The open house showed off a variety of the items staff had already printed: a small boat figurine, a melting Lego piece, a somewhat large Christmas tree.

The printers take spools of plastic and melt them into a form by stacking very thin layers atop each other.

Erlandson said the library bought one pre-built and another they could build from a kit.

She said youth will be able to learn to use the printers and other technology through a variety of classes.

“This will be an ongoing program,” she said. “We plan to offer programming once per week during the school year and two to four times per week for the summer.”

As with the Sphero robot, classes could build on each other, teaching more and more advanced topics.

In addition to 10 Spheros, and the 3-D printers, Erlandson said the grant helped the library purchase:

• three sets of Bloxels: not on display Saturday, these sets help users create simple video games.

• five pairs of robots named Dash and Dot, geared for younger children

• one Oculus Rift set of goggles and hand controllers, plus a gaming PC to handle the software; this will allow users to explore virtual reality experiences.

• four sets of Lego Mindstorms: for 12-year-olds and older to build a variety of robots and devices and experiment with motion sensors and programming

• six Kindle Fire 8 tablet computers to run various devices above

• four Chaos Millenium Towers: “They’re like giant Rube-Goldberg machines with little ball following  different paths, bouncing off little trampolines and ringing bells.”

Erlandson said the library wanted to provide more science and technology programming as it prepares to build its addition over the next 18 months.

“And we wanted to be able to offer something different than what the school has and supplement that,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun discovering each of the devices and playing. We had to learn how to use them; it’s been a learning curve over the last couple months—a fun learning curve.”

She said the youth services librarian will ultimately run the ADL Labs program. That position is still being filled.

“We’re conducting phone interviews soon,” she said. “We hope to have someone going by the end of the month.”

View a video of some of the children trying out the VR goggles and other devices on our Facebook page.

For more information and to register children for the classes, call (269) 673-4625. The library is at 331 Hubbard St.

Contact Ryan Lewis at or (269) 673-5534.




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