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Tags human interaction , robots

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Old 13th April 2009, 12:20 PM   #1
GreNME
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Tweenbots: Human-Dependent Robots Doing... stuff

A neat little site I stumbled across lately was a project in New York called Tweenbots. As described on the site, Tweenbots are human-dependent little robots that rely on human interaction to get from one place to another. By "interaction" I mean that they have a little flag attached to them with their destination, and humans basically point the little Tweenbot in the right direction. That's it. If people ignored the Tweenbot or didn't help it out, the little bot would never get where it's going, and even worse it might wind up crunched by a car or a dog or something.

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Given their extreme vulnerability, the vastness of city space, the dangers posed by traffic, suspicion of terrorism, and the possibility that no one would be interested in helping a lost little robot, I initially conceived the Tweenbots as disposable creatures which were more likely to struggle and die in the city than to reach their destination. Because I built them with minimal technology, I had no way of tracking the Tweenbot's progress, and so I set out on the first test with a video camera hidden in my purse. I placed the Tweenbot down on the sidewalk, and walked far enough away that I would not be observed as the Tweenbot––a smiling 10-inch tall cardboard missionary––bumped along towards his inevitable fate.
Despite the fact that the idea sounds like it's destined to end in disaster, the Tweenbots did exceptionally well:

Quote:
The results were unexpected. 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."
I think the story is adorable, the concept is novel, and the project sounds like a very interesting look at human interaction in a city like New York (or, really, anywhere).

Has anyone else heard of these things? Anyone in NYC here ever see them?
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Old 13th April 2009, 04:25 PM   #2
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All together now: Awww.

But did anyone else have their mind in the gutter after reading the title ?
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Old 13th April 2009, 04:29 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Tsukasa Buddha View Post
All together now: Awww.

But did anyone else have their mind in the gutter after reading the title ?
No. But now I do...
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Old 13th April 2009, 05:04 PM   #4
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Incredibly cute little guy. I wonder, though, just how much his cuteness had to do with people's willingness to help? Would they have been so quick to scoot him on his way if he had a frowny face....or an unidentifiable stain?? I think I'll try my own experiment with an evil tweenbot, a frowning, brow knitting. pre-menstrual harpy who spits when touched. Betcha it spends a lot of time under a park bench.
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Old 13th April 2009, 06:56 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by bickerer View Post
Incredibly cute little guy. I wonder, though, just how much his cuteness had to do with people's willingness to help? Would they have been so quick to scoot him on his way if he had a frowny face....or an unidentifiable stain?? I think I'll try my own experiment with an evil tweenbot, a frowning, brow knitting. pre-menstrual harpy who spits when touched. Betcha it spends a lot of time under a park bench.
Actually, the creator is making a few more, one with a sad face asking the person who finds it to call a number.

What I think the project is showing is how easily we (people) can tend to anthropomorphize things. I don't mean that in a bad way, either. It's a strong evidence to the lengths of our empathy and how it extends beyond each other. Sure, it's not some world-changing thing, but it offers a bit more of an optimistic outlook to civilization in general that doesn't require supernatural sky-daddies or political partisan hackery.
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Old 13th April 2009, 07:10 PM   #6
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Dang, I was gonna post about this.
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Old 14th April 2009, 07:44 AM   #7
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Sounds like a high-tech version of Paddle to the Sea.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddle_to_the_sea


Apparently, the film is online here:

http://www.nfb.ca/film/paddle_to_the_sea/
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Old 14th April 2009, 12:13 PM   #8
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You know, what I like about this is that it's managed to evolve into performance art as well as an interesting sociological experiment all at the same time. Who would have ever guessed that humans would be so consistent at helping the little mechanical critters along? I actually predicted that some would take glee into herding the things into danger, such as the path of an unsuspecting bus (and doing so in a way that wouldn't cause the driver to freak out, thus risking a serious accident... like sending it in front of a bus at a stop, close enough to where the driver wouldn't notice). Or point 'em at potholes, or something like that.

The question becomes: What is this indicative of? Could it demonstrate that people are actually concerned about an apparent experiment in robotics, and don't want some high school or college kid's project all screwed up? Or, could this be some anthropomorphic sentiment rising to the surface because the 'bot is cute and has a smiley face on it? That's an interesting thought to ponder.
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Old 14th April 2009, 07:50 PM   #9
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Deadrose made the comment to me that this is reminded her of the Oobi.
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Old 14th April 2009, 07:56 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by ElMondoHummus View Post
The question becomes: What is this indicative of? Could it demonstrate that people are actually concerned about an apparent experiment in robotics, and don't want some high school or college kid's project all screwed up? Or, could this be some anthropomorphic sentiment rising to the surface because the 'bot is cute and has a smiley face on it? That's an interesting thought to ponder.
I'm fairly convinced that it's the latter. Do the same thing with a robot that doesn't have a cute smiley face and I think you'll see some differences.
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Old 14th April 2009, 07:59 PM   #11
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You should test that theory.

I await your results.
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Old 14th April 2009, 08:53 PM   #12
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Cool stuff. Thanks.

I'd like to see a traveling stop sign, or a robotic panhandler.
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Old 14th April 2009, 11:17 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
I'm fairly convinced that it's the latter. Do the same thing with a robot that doesn't have a cute smiley face and I think you'll see some differences.
This ties nicely in with the hypothesis that people are nice when it is easy to be nice, and nasty when it is easier to be nasty than to do nothing.
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Old 15th April 2009, 01:27 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by quarky View Post
Cool stuff. Thanks.

I'd like to see a traveling stop sign, or a robotic panhandler.
Hey, now there's an idea. Have the robot travel around as before, but add a little collection box and a sign that says "Donations Please". See how many people actually contribute!
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Old 15th April 2009, 02:53 AM   #15
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I, too, wondered if people would help if it had a sad face on it, or no face at all. Will be interesting to see.

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Could it demonstrate that people are actually concerned about an apparent experiment in robotics, and don't want some high school or college kid's project all screwed up?
Another possibility, of course.
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Old 31st July 2009, 11:24 AM   #16
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Why settle for a little cardboard robot with a single little motor, if you can do pretty much the same thing with a whole heck of a lot more expensive technology... I guess it needs it, as it can't benefit from being cute.
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