Robots help kids vote in mock election

Published 9:50 pm Friday, October 31, 2008

FRANKLIN—Schoolchildren at S.P. Morton Elementary School will get their say in this year’s presidential election as they take to the polls on Tuesday to vote for either John McCain or Barack Obama.

Sort of.

The school will hold a mock election all day so that the more than 600 pupils there can “vote.”

What makes the experience special is the introduction of the school’s own voting machines in the form of Lego robots.

The robots, which are basically mini computers about the size of an adult hand, were built and programmed by fifth-grader Timothy Kreider and his dad, Kim. Timothy is one of eight S.P. Morton pupils who participates in the school’s FIRST Lego League, headed by teacher Liz Burgess and mentor Calvin Sing.

“He is always doing something special,” Jill Peerey, the school’s librarian, said Friday about Timothy as she took pictures of him with the devices.

“Awesome, Timothy. I’m proud of you,” Peerey said, slapping Timothy’s hand in a high-five.

Burgess was put in charge of running the school’s voting effort, and Sing was trying to create an Excel spreadsheet where children could vote using a laptop but running into technical errors. Separately, the Lego League was gearing up for its competition at Old Dominion University on Nov. 8.

“When we were working with (the robots) because this is our season, Calvin said, ‘You know these store data,’” Burgess said.

Timothy volunteered his dad, a computer programmer, to help program the Lego devices so that each side had a touch sensor linked to each candidate.

“I built it. He helped me program,” the younger Kreider said.

“What I have here are touch sensors that can sense when they are bumped, pressed or released,” Timothy said about the buttons children will push to cast each vote. “The really cool thing is you can build your own sensors.”

Kim Kreider said the technology the children are learning in Lego League might benefit them later in life.

“The technology they are working with would be very familiar to the instrument technicians at the International Paper mill or people who work in industrial environments,” Kreider said. “It’s exactly what they use to keep machines running and conveyors