I’ve been helping the local high school’s FIRST Robotics team for a decade, although not technically – they’ve got real engineers. I write and put together the kids’ parody musical as part of their fund-raising night, and they are much better than you’re thinking right now.

COVID-19 has, of course, upended the whole program, which has gone global since Dean Kamen started it in a New Hampshire gym in 1992, and I’m not sure what’s happening this year. Very sad: Tons of geeky kids itching to get their hands on gears, belts, wheels and software are stranded!

So I enjoyed a story in the Valley News (read it here) about a local FIRST Robotics team helping doctors make “telepresence” robots for patients. The idea is pretty simple: Put an iPad with camera at eye level atop a tall stick and have it drive around on a remote-controlled stand. Lots of them exist in various forms, and the pandemic has boosted their use.

But the devil’s in the details, such as how to attach things.

“One of my students came up with the idea to use magnets,” said James Cole-Henry, a mechanical engineer at Lebanon-based Fujifilm Dimatix who is also head coach for the Grasshoppers, the FIRST robotics team at the Hartford Area Career Technical Center. “I was a little embarrassed. At work I’m like Mr. Magnet.”

But wait, you say, wouldn’t a magnet mess up the iPad? You’ll have to read the story to see the answer.

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