New Yorkers Help Robot Find Its Way in the Big City

Posted on April 17, 2009  Comments (3)

Tweenbots by Kacie Kinzer

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.

Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

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.”

Very cool, fun and interesting. Cute integration of technology, psychology and an inquisitive scientific mind.

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3 Responses to “New Yorkers Help Robot Find Its Way in the Big City”

  1. Anonymous
    April 18th, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

    Although the tweenbots are cool, I’m more intrigued that so many people actually helped the bots out. I wouldn’t have assumed that.

  2. Anonymous
    April 19th, 2009 @ 6:11 am

    Great that its still humans who are helping robots find their ways in our human occupied cities. But
    Tweenbots appear to be friend object (robots) not like the ones in ‘I Robot’ who plan to take over the city.

  3. Scott Thourson
    April 24th, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    This puts the faith back in humanity.

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