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TweenBots could hardly be called high-tech. They are made of cardboard, twine, plastic wheels, and felt marker smiley faces. The electronics inside is rudimentary at best - capable of driving the robot forwards in a straight line until the battery goes dead. Yet, these adorable if dumb, throwaway robots have taught us much about the natuie of humans, and robot interaction.

TweenBots are the creations of Kacie Kinzer at Tisch's ITP program in New York. She created the little robots as a social experiment, fully expecting that all of them would be mashed by cars, kicked apart, or otherwise destroyed in short order.

Yet, time and time again, when the robots were sent on task, they made it. Random humans would intervene if the cute little happy robot was heading for disaster, and nudge it on its way. A flag, attached to each robot announced its destination, and people would pick it out of potholes, right it if it tipped over, and nudge it on task with feet.

Kacie monitored the robots from a distance, with a camera in her purse, and was amazed at how time and time again, the robots were helped by complete strangers, to get to their destination. None were stolen, none were steered to destruction.

"In New York, we are very occupied with getting from one place to another. I wondered: could a human-like object traverse sidewalks and streets along with us, and in so doing, create a narrative about our relationship to space and our willingness to interact with what we find in it? More importantly, how could our actions be seen within a larger context of human connection that emerges from the complexity of the city itself? To answer these questions, I built robots."

Whilst the robots are basic, it seems the cuteness factor wins people over. No one likes to be lost, struggling to achieve a goal, and whilst more work needs to be done, it is extremely likely that the robots looking cute, and helpless, touched the humans who were passing through, to help them. If these experiments are used to construct visages for more complex robots that capture the same feelings, then in all likelihood, the will do very well indeed.


Robot/People art by Kacie Kinzer

Tweenbots - Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

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