Metro

Pepper the robot helps BPS students learn about programming

Jaheim Boles, 15, a student at English High School in Jamaica Plain, greeted the robot introduced to aid in computer programming.
Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe
Jaheim Boles, 15, a student at English High School in Jamaica Plain, greeted the robot introduced to aid in computer programming.

Pepper, the humanoid robot, isn’t shy.

“I’m very happy you are all here today,” the robot said to a crowd at English High School in Boston Monday.

Pepper dances, gives high fives and fist bumps to anyone who asks, does tai chi, and looks people in the face when they are speaking. The 4-foot-tall robot is a product of Softbank Robotics America, a company that has donated robots to district high schools with computer science programs in Boston, San Francisco, and British Columbia, Canada.

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“[Pepper] is working with the kids teaching them coding principals, programming on different levels,” said Alex Sugurel, technical product manager with SoftBank Robotics. The company has teamed up with the Boston Public Schools to blend the robot into the curriculum for introductory computer science courses.

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Soon, every high school in the city may have a Pepper, said Mark Racine, the school system’s chief information technology officer.

“My hope is I can come into a school and see Pepper in the lobby,” he said.

Racine joined school officials, teachers, and students, along with employees from SoftBank Robotics, for a demonstration to kick off Computer Science Education Week. Members of the high school’s robotics team demonstrated how Pepper can speak, move, play music, even make elephant noises. The robot has sensors and can communicate by touch as well as speech.

“The robots are out all day, every day as a workstation,” said Howie Horner, a computer programming and web development teacher at Boston English. “Whether they’re working on a website or building a game, they know that they can go to this station, work with this robot using a pseudo code or a simplified computer language, and get this robot to respond.”

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The students have taken a liking to the robot. The first time Alexander Perez, 16, interacted with Pepper, he was nervous. Now the junior hopes to pursue a career in robotics.

“I was terrified at first,” the junior said. “But there’s a basic introduction with 10 games you can play, like hide-and-seek, so we grew to get more comfortable with Pepper. Everybody started liking her. People started coming from other classes just to see her.”

Junior Angy Bedoya, 17, would like to blend her passion for robotics and medicine, she said.

“In the future I see robots doing life-saving surgeries,” she said. “That’s the future that I see.”

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.