Introducing the Moanbot

A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop conducted by the smart people at Tinker London, where I learnt how to build a robot – specifically, a moanbot, or as Tinker say, “a small intelligent English robot that moans according to the changes in his immediate environment. Just like the rest of us.” It was a part of the onedotzero-adventures in motion festival that was being held at the BFI Southbank, and the moanbot was actually being launched that day.

They started off with an introductory presentation which took us through the genesis of the project – they mentioned the uncanny valley in connection with this, a theory which I’m seeing pop up a lot nowadays, with reference to the fact that adding emotions to a robot gives it a whole new dimension, like the Nabaztag, for example. Check out how someone gives a personality to her Nabaztag as she uses it as her companion for the day:

Or, one of my favourite robots of all time, Marvin, from the Hitchhiker’s series:

Then there’s Pleo, a rather lethargic little dinosaur robot (you don’t have to watch the whole thing) – if you skip to the middle you’ll see how he has a personality of some sort:

Moanbot was built using Arduino, a technology which was built keeping less technically-savvy people in mind (hence its ability to be understood fairly simply). As an aside, I thought it was fascinating how the name ‘arduino’ came about: the students who invented the technology in Ivrea, Italy, were hanging out at their local pub which was called (wait for it) the ‘Re Arduino’ or ‘King Arduino’!

The Tinker team have made the open source code for the Moanbot available here. I had a lovely day tinkering away (pun intended) with Arduino and my Moanbot, which I got to take home. Highly recommended.

I think robots will be an important part of urban computing in the future – there is a lot being done with robots today already of course, but I think they’re only hitting their stride now. Kevin Kelly mentions in What Technology Wants that if you track the history of technology, there’s typically a huge gap between technologies being invented but then you see a whole lot of creations using a specific technology all at once – I think that’s where we are headed with robots.

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