Robot State at Maker Faire

Maker Faire 2011 was on May 21-22 and I attended to try out a fun way of continuing conversations about robots as assistant to the Robot Ambassador. CNET’s Daniel Terdiman wrote a great Maker Faire overview including me.

As this project evolves, I intend to extend the interactive robot ambassador and its ‘pets’ or workers, using robots with features both appealing and disconcerting to explore the meaning that people make of what a robot is.

One project that was attracting a lot of kids was Andra Keay’s The Robot State. This is part of Keay’s thesis project, which is a study of playing with robots and what doing so means.

Kids were swarming to her booth, where Keay was processing “applications” for the Robot State. She would ask them three questions: what are the names of three different robots you know of; what are robots’ biggest achievements; and how do you see yourself in the future of human-robot relations.

Keay explained that most people answer the first query with the names of fictional robots and that the question usually throws people off so much, they don’t even know how to respond to the second. But ultimately, she said, her work is about trying to discover some of the truths that lie in human-robot interactions. One thing she said she’s noted in her research is that just about anyone who builds a robot names it, even if their projects are not about social robots. “We like names,” she said. “You want to work on something. We like naming things.” She wants to study the stories behind the names people give their robots.

The robots for this project were cobbled together very quickly due to thesis finishing and house moving (to USA) but were much more successful than hoped and a lot of fun. I am making a page for each robot and have rearranged the Robot State website to include more practical information. There will be more playing with robots in the future!

 RoBird and the Ambassador

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