EL TORO : Punchy Makes a Hit at Olivewood School
Olivewood Elementary School student Darrin Shimizu didn’t expect to befriend a blinking, 660-pound robot in front of more than 300 of his classmates on Thursday morning.
But that’s exactly what happened when Olivewood’s fifth-graders were called to the school’s multipurpose room for a “mystery assembly” that featured a surprise appearance by Punchy D. Robot, an odd-looking, computerized machine that delivered a humorous yet powerful anti-drug message to the group.
“Whaddaya say you and me go cruisin’ for chicks,” Punchy said to Darrin as it placed the giggling 9-year-old on its lap and whisked the youngster around the center of the room.
The robot told the students that even though it is a machine and worth a lot of money, they were worth a lot more.
“You are all million-dollar machines that get bigger and stronger every day,” Punchy said, adding that drugs can damage the body. “Your machine can take you anywhere you want to go from the top of the moon to the bottom of the ocean. With your million-dollar machine, you can do anything.”
The robot, which is actually worth $250,000, was created in 1986 from a grant from Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. It has toured 28 states delivering a message to students that they can live up to their full potential by avoiding tobacco, alcohol and other drug use.
The robot refused to divulge exactly how it operates and is able to interact with people with the same spontaneity as a human being.
“I don’t have an implied gender or race, and I’m not an authority figure so it’s easier for kids to listen to me than it would be for some speaker,” Punchy said later during an interview outside the school’s parking lot.
The robot’s “surprise appearance” was a big hit with both students and teachers.
“I liked what he said about not taking drugs and being healthy,” said Darrin, who added that he was not offended when the robot looked at the boy’s striped blue and purple shirt and described him as a “psychedelic bumblebee.”
“I thought it was an interesting way to point out to kids that they are very valuable machines in their own bodies,” said teacher Anne Higuchi. “I think the message sunk in because kids like machines and relate to them very comfortably.”