Students Teach “Finches” a Few Tricks

AP Computer Science students are reviewing and studying new features in Java programming with the help of Finch robots (, a new bird-like robot for computer science education.


Junior  Bryn Carickhoff and senior Gabby DiPietro modified sample programs to control the finch’s movements. Carickhoff prgrammed her finch to draw a spiral, while DiPietro’s bird was moving in a clover pattern. The girls’ refined their programs through trial and error, responding to the birds’ movements and responses to conditions like varying surfaces.

Of the several sample routines they ran to observe, the students were most interested in the Obstacle Avoidance program, where the robot moved like the Roomba vacuum, and others that graphed the temperature and light sensors.

Computer science teacher Carol Sweeney said, “The Finch supports an engaging learning environment with results students can see and hear. Some of the projects we are doing are drawing shapes with markers attached to the Finch, detecting and reporting light intensity and temperatures. We also plan to have the Finch act as a waiter, to play a song and to save Indiana Finch from the Nest of Doom.”

Designed by Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE lab, the Finch has sensors for light, temperature, and obstacle detection, and uses accelerometers to detect its orientation. Its beak LED can display a range of colors, and it can sing musical tones and speak words in response to programming.

Sweeney notes that the Villa Tech Club will also be using the finches when programming with Scratch.