Coastie the robot

I volunteered at the Grand Rapids Boat Show last weekend with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. It was great to hang out with other auxiliarists and with a Coast Guard officer who was also at the show. My highlight of the show was the training that occurred on the second floor:  Coastie operator training.  Coastie is a 45-inch robot shaped like a cartoon-character boat that talks to the kids about water safety. The operator controls its motion, eye movements, speech, lights, sounds, etc. from a distance, while another auxiliarist keeps kids from getting too close (so they don’t get hurt) and gives them a sticker if they are using PFDs.


Coastie the Water Safety Robot

Coastie the Water Safety Robot

During the class, I got to drive Coastie around a room with chairs as obstacles. The goal was to make tight turns without touching, and much less hitting, a single chair, since the chairs represented children. Hitting a chair would be the equivalent of a lawsuit. Knocking down a chair would be the equivalent of knocking out a child and, well, an even bigger lawsuit! This robot is very heavy, and it moves quite fast, so it carries a lot of momentum. Even an adult can get knocked down by Coastie, let alone small child. That’s why training and practice are extremely important. And let me tell you, driving Coastie is not easy! It swivels around at the slightest touch of the controller. Driving it for over 20 minutes is exhausting, as it requires complete focus.  It’s so much fun though to watch kids of all ages being drawn into the robot. I guess for a child, Coastie is like a real-life, interactive cartoon character.  Thus, what the operator speaks through its squeaky voice is bound to stick to children’s minds, which makes Coastie a perfect educational tool for water safety.

I am by no means a pro at driving Coastie yet, but I guess I didn’t do too bad. I did not hit a single obstacle, but I had some trouble finding the functions I was told to find. There are so many buttons and switches on that huge controller that finding anything quickly is anything but easy.  Still, it was a fun experience. It’s not every day I get to drive a $10,000 robot!


About Gabriel Mongefranco

Gabriel Mongefranco is your software developer for all things data: extraction, integration, analytics and security. He is also a blogger, a poet, a proud father and a faithful Christian. He is always eager to contract with faith-based nonprofits! Learn more.