"Robots make a good teaching tool because they are able to convey a message in a memorable way by talking with kids at their own level," he says.
Wearing bike helmets or seat belts, robots become living examples of what (or what not) to do. For example, Probotics America has Bike-Bots for bike rodeos and toddler-sized Baby-Bots for car safety seat programs.
The company's Super Star Series shines with 5-foot, 2-inch robots that have interactive and multimedia features such as a DVD player.
Both Probotics America and Robotronics say features can be added based on an agency's needs.
Using a two-way voice system, an officer can be 100 yards away and still carry on a conversation. Many children unaware that the officer is speaking for the robotic character may be more likely to speak to the robot than they would a uniformed officer.
"When using a robotic character to communicate with kids, remarkable things can happen," says Schwen."
To capture the attention of young children, the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department teamed with local high school drama students to help write a script and record the voices for Bike-Bot Officer Bruce, which were downloaded to an MP3 player. (The free recording is available at www.proboticsamerica.com/materials.html.)
To choose the best robot for the job, agencies need to determine what they want to help the community understand; how they're going to get the attention of the audience and deliver the message effectively; which events they will attend; and who they're going to talk to. Again, budget will come into play, but there are some things agencies can do to cut robot costs.
For example, a fire department and police department purchased two vehicles but only one robot that they share. In another example, a car dealership funded a robot driving the same make that the dealership sold.Gun safety materials
Another popular crime prevention icon who has stood the test of time is Eddie Eagle. While supplies last, free gun safety materials (workbooks, brochures, stickers, instructors' guides and a DVD) are available to law enforcement agencies, says Eric Lipp, Eddie Eagle program manager at NRA headquarters. Lipp points out the materials are often grant funded. Since 1988, Eddie Eagle's common-sense message "STOP! Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult." has been important for all communities.
"Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, children need to be taught what to do if they come across an unsupervised firearm," says Lipp.
The Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program teaches children in pre-K through third grade what to do if they find a gun. The program never mentions the NRA and prohibits use of the mascot anywhere there are guns.Seat Belt Convincers
Seat Belt Convincers also have been around since about 1988. Sometimes telling someone to wear a seat belt isn't enough; according to NHTSA's 2008 National Occupant Protection Use Survey, about 20 percent of the nation still does not buckle up.
"Until someone actually experiences the forces generated during a collision, they are not able to grasp the benefits that seat belts can provide," says Bret Lanz, commercialization manager, Advanced Manufacturing Institute, a department in the Kansas State University College of Engineering.
The Convincer allows riders to experience the force generated in a mock low-speed collision (reaching between 5 to 10 mph), to help them understand the benefit of a seat belt.
The Convincer can often be purchased using state or federal grant funding, including National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funding.Safety on the Internet
Like driving without a seat belt, navigating the Information Superhighway can be dangerous. Cyber crimes are among the most popular topics in crime prevention programs today. The non-profit i-SAFE Inc. has been dedicated to protecting the online experiences of youth since 1998. I-SAFE incorporates classroom curriculum (for K-12) with community outreach to empower students, teachers, parents, law enforcement and other concerned adults.