Bots in the building: Hickory Grove Elementary first in the nation to pilot Peoria-based robots

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DUNLAP, Ill. (WMBD) — The Dunlap Community Unit School District 323 is bringing in the bots.

Leaders in the district said for about three weeks Hickory Grove Elementary School has been piloting three robots provided by the Peoria-based company Pringle Robotics. They said it’s currently the only school in the country to do so.

Two of the autonomous and A-I driven robots are ‘hosting and delivery’ bots and the third is a ‘disinfection’ bot.

“I think that the robots come at a perfection time with cold and flu season upon us, the increase in COVID that is facing the nation,” Jeremy Etnyre, Hickory Grove Elementary principal, said. “Having that sanitizing robot that can go through all of our rooms each night is reassuring to me.”

Etnyre said there’s a delivery and hosting robot on the first and second floor. He said the robots are programmed to have the entire school mapped out in its system and can be controlled manually or with a smartphone.

Etnyre said the delivery and hosting bots can speak, they can be used to accompany someone to different rooms throughout the school, they can delivery video messages on its screen, and they can delivery items to different classrooms that students may have forgotten such as lunch or school supplies.

He said the robots have been a huge hit with the students and the students even named two of them, “Rosie the Robot,” and “Roz 2.0.”

“I love seeing the students enjoying the robots, learning about the robots, and wanting to do more with the robots,” Etnyre said. “As a principal, I see the greatest benefit is really inspiring students to think about how technology can improve our lives.”

Etnyre said the robots have also been a good tool to utilize in an era where there are so many staffing shortages.

Gerald Prall, a sales manager with Pringle Robotics, said the robots are years in the making and are meant to make students and the faculty safer and more efficient, especially the disinfection robot.

“With all of the health risks that we’re facing, the need for disinfection, sanitizing is very important for everyone these days,” Prall said. “We have to find new solutions for these kinds of problems.”

Prall said the disinfection robot uses a uv-c disinfection light, similar to hospitals, and a dry mist. He said after the custodians clean at night, the robot is programmed to move around the different floors, sanitize, and it can disinfect the entire school in three hours.

He said the robots also us lidar technology, the same technology used for self-driving cars, that allows the robots to avoid humans and obstacles in its path. He said efficiency is the goal.

“Allowing the staff to concentrate on more highly-valued tasks, complicated tasks and allowing the bot to automate some of these things can really make the staff more efficient,” Prall said. “We’re not looking to replace things– replace people, we’re looking to make them more efficient.”

Prall also said they are piloting these robots restaurants, hotels, and manufacturing facilities. He said Pringle Robotics is in talks with Peoria city leaders to bring an operational center to the city in hopes of bringing more jobs and opportunities to the area.

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