Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog

Some initial thoughts on Personal Robots

Fri, 2006-07-14 11:45

Mark gave a nice example of emergent "clapping" behavior for a bunch of robots. I have seen something similar demonstrated by Fred Martin (formerly at MIT Media Lab and now at U-Mass, Lowell). I think he called it a "firefly" demo. The ideas were the same except in this case the robots (whose hardware was all suspended in a tennis ball size transparent glob of plastic) lit up their LEDs. The robots were all placed in a circle and after a while all of them synchronized their lighting up in different ways....kind of like watching fireflies on summer nights.

Fred has also developed a bunch of Braitenberg like robot behavior exercises that are simple enough but convey more than just a sense of programming instructions. The resulting behaviors are intriguing enough for observers who then tend to describe them in amazingly anthopomorphic ways. We've used many of these exercises here at Bryn Mawr and we'll be sure to incorporate some of them in our materials.

The first thing that I'd really want to incorporate in our implementation is to really go after the idea of "Personal Robot". I.e. we should design the robot's body/frame/packaging so that it can be easily amenable to personalization by way of painting, coloring, stickers, and other fun crafty things that are available (sticky shiny stars anyone?). Here's an idea for a first week's assignment then:

Give your robot a personality by customizing it in whichever way you'd like (provide some pictures of examples), give it a name. Explore basic robot movement behaviors (including a way of downloading and playing a short tune...Funky Town anyone?) and design a set of "dance" moves for your robot using the basic movement behaviors in sync with the tune.

Such an exercise will give them an introduction to the robot, some of its features (movements etc) and the structure of a simple program.

Back to the basic philosophy of our approach. Mark said it right, this is not about Robtics and AI or Cognitive Science, it is about learning computing in the context of these and other fields of computer science.

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