By: Erin Brown

TIMMONSVILLE, SC (WBTW) – The first “STEM U” lab in the Pee Dee is officially open. Florence School District Four held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday to unveil the newest edition to their schools and discuss the benefits and impact that they hope STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) will have on students.

The lab features sophisticated technology including a 20-touch board that allows all 20 students in one classroom to work together simultaneously. It also has a 3-D printer, drones, 360-learning cameras, and a unique, realistic robot called “Milo.” Milo is not only a STEM mentor. He’s also helping children with autism cope both at home and in the classroom. Jack Howarth with Robokind Advanced Social Robotics says Milo serves as a stress reliever, teacher, and friend for children on the spectrum. He soothes them in times of distress, encourages them with positive words, teaches them social cues, and helps them understand emotions.

“Children with autism have a hard time connecting with humans because we’re to unpredictable. He’s the same every day. He’s a robot. He also has a screen and a camera so he’ll tell them ‘I’m happy. You do happy.’ And they’ll see themselves in the screen like a mirror. So they’re learning what happy is, what sad is.”

As more children are being diagnosed with autism, including 5 students at FSD4, there’s an increased need for Milo.

“He doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t judge. He just says ‘let’s try that again.’ And he always refers to them ‘my friends,'” said Howarth.

The goal is to have a few several hundred Milos deployed throughout South Carolina in the next few years. Right now, he is in schools in about 30 states and is also available globally. 
One representative from “STEM U” says one of the top priorities of this new lab is to provide students in rural areas with the skills and confidence of knowing that they are just as academically competitive as students in big cities that tend to have more resources.
“When you go to a corporation, they don’t say ‘you’re from Timmonsville or you’re from Charlotte, I’m not going to hire you.’ They want to know if you’ve got the skill set. So with these students having the access to the skill set, it puts them in a level playing field,” said Chris Williams.
All students at FSD4 will have access to the “STEM U” lab.
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