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updated: 5/10/2014 6:28 PM

Want a robot? Try Chicago Public Library

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Associated Press

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Public Library has more than just books for borrowing. It now has a fleet of 500 robots that can be checked out.

The idea is to give Chicago residents of all ages a chance to dabble in the basics of computer coding. The gadgets, known as Finch Robots, were donated by Google Chicago and made the library the first in the nation to have them available for people to take home.

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They can be coded to move, make noises, light up and even draw. Some of the programming can be done by children as young as 8 years old.

"We hope to inspire the next generation of technologists and computer scientists," Jim Lecinski, head of the Google Chicago office, said at a Saturday event announcing the program.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the partnership with Google will support the city's push to give residents better access to learning opportunities in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The robots were invented by a lab at Carnegie Mellon University. They are set up for use with more than a dozen of the most commonly used computer languages. Users hook the robots up to their home computer or laptops and download instructional tutorials from the company's website.

The robots will be kept at six of the library's locations. To make them more widely available, borrowers can request that they be sent to the library location of their choice.

"Getting students excited about computer science at the primary and secondary school level is critical," Lecinski said.

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