Tweenbots: Cute Beats Smart


If you wanted to build a robot that could go from one end of Washington Square Park to the other without your help how would you do it? How expensive in time and money would it be? Would you build or buy a navigation system? Construct a sensing system to detect obstacles? Or would you decide to take a different tact and use cute as your primary tool?

ITP student Kacie Kinzer created a 10-inch smiling robot called a Tweenbot that can only go straight. For each journey Kacie would give the robot a destination and clearly label it. Given the obstacles in its way and lack of navigation or steering systems the expectation was that the robot would not make it. However the robot’s avoidance of the uncanny valley and clearly written goal helped it out. Humans would redirect the Tweenbot so it successfully reached its destination. Below is a map of one Tweenbot journey:

Mission 1: Get from the Northwest to the Southwest Corner of Washington Square Park / time: 42 minutes / number of people who intervened: 29

tweenbot map

As Kacie describes on the site:

Over the course of the following months, throughout numerous missions, the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the robot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged. Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the “right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, “You can’t go that way, it’s toward the road.”

So why do people help out the tweenbot? Personally I would not be able to resist assisting the anthropomorphized little robot. The smile signals its innocent intentions and the Tweenbot’s label makes it clear how to help. It’s something for designers and technologists to remember; sometimes cute and clever can get the job done much cheaper and in less time than smart and expensive.

There are more Tweenbots coming so if you happen to see any friendly robots around your town lend a hand. Here are some of the prototypes that are currently in development.

new tweenbots

via Hacker News

tags: , ,