The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

October 23, 2013

Robot catches kids' interest

OTTUMWA — This robot was different than the ones these students were used to.

"That was [one] reason for taking the students [to visit Ottumwa Regional Health Center]; this isn't a robot entertaining people by going across a stage, this is a robot performing life-saving procedures," said Sharon Padget, an Ottumwa High School teacher.

The youngsters received an invitation from Dr. Jeff Bittner, who performs surgery at the hospital using, when the circumstances are right, the da Vinci surgical robot.

"Back in August, Dr. Jeff Bittner contacted our principal, Mark Hanson, about becoming a mentor," said Padget.

He was specifically interested in clubs that encourage student enthusiasm toward the sciences. That seemed like a good match for HyperStream members, who study technology careers in person, and the First Tech Challenge Robotics Club, where members build, program and operate robots competitively. Padget said these are hands-on kids, each with their own gift.

She and fellow staff members Beth Neese and Steve Zimmerman went with the students to Ottumwa Regional Health Center. Bittner and a da Vinci service representative assigned to Ottumwa's robot explained how the robot worked, and why it was better than some other types of surgery. Then, after some training, they let the kids use the surgical tool.

So were the students nervous?

"No, they were fearless," Padget said. "Dr. Bittner actually sat the kids down in the chair and showed them how to manipulate the robot. They talked of nothing else on the way back to school. Of being able to move things with just their hands and feet on this $1.5 million dollar robot. How it felt to move the robot, the challenges Dr. Bittner gave them ..."

Of course, these young science and technology buffs are more used to robots, programming and remote control units than some members of their parents' generation.

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