Playful Robotics Prototyping

Over the last few weeks, we've been prototyping a new robotics workshop for East Bay Mini Maker Faire. Since our experiments a few years ago with chalk scribbling machines and eraser bristle bots, we've been intrigued by the idea of machines that make messes and clean them up. 


After some recent experiments with the DAGU gear motors that allow for more complex motion, we thought that it would be fun to revisit the idea. 


For materials we experimented with brushes, sponges and other cleaners from the local Daiso. For connections to the motor, we lasercut hubs that fit on the slower shafts and allow for more attachment points. And finally we collected some confetti, sequined dots and glitter for maximum mess making. 


The first prototypes used these materials in simple and complex ways. A machine that simply spun a container of glitter created a beautiful mess!

And things got a little more complex with this bot that used a brush to sweep glitter (or crumbs) up into a little egg carton shaped dustpan. 

We've been working on automata projects with the Cabaret Mechanical Theater and a quick look on pinterest inspired this cute hand-cranked sweeping machine. 


Each of these machines was interesting and fun to make, but we felt a little worried that the theme might be too limiting or literal. After the first couple experiments, we thought that we would need to do some more work to create a set of inspiring examples to encourage people to think differently. 


AS a way to expand the possibilities and share new ideas, we invited Sarah and Willa over the to WICO shop to do some more prototyping on the topics. Both of them offered to help facilitate at the Maker Faire and it's always important to try activities yourself before sharing them with others. 

Willa worked on a spinning machine that looked a little like the fortune teller machines from elementary school. It was really cool how the spinning disk created a seemingly random distribution of beads. 

As we played around more with the materials, the machines started to feel more sculptural and kinetic art like. Sarah created a beautiful brush bot with a couple of spinning arms that reminded us of a Eames' solar do nothing machine

Nicole abandoned the theme of mess making and cleaning completely and built a tickling machine using a crank slider and extended wire to move a feather. We thought this was a great twist on the idea of a robot petting zoo where the robot pets you instead. 

I took up an discarded idea from Nicole and worked on a yarn tangling machine. It didn't work perfectly because the string eventually tightens on the pegs and jams the mechanism, although that failure could be redefined as creating a self-destruction machine. Plus it inspired Willa to get some pasta after prototyping (which I'm planning to take inspiration from for the next version of the twirler). 


As we finished up working through our designs, we started thinking together about what facilitation, materials and pop-up environment could best support the interaction at East Bay Mini Maker Faire. 

Over the next couple of weeks we hope to test out different sizes and shapes of hubs for the geared motors. As well, in terms of the materials set, we had some bad ideas for mess making things (sprinkles) but those thoughts led to imagining using  beans, seeds or rice as potential interesting (and compostable) elements. And finally, we want to try more experiments giving the robots found object faces that reflect their personalities. 


For facilitation, we mostly discussed the initial prompt and theme. While the idea of messy and clean robots did provide an interesting starting point, we quickly expanded the ideas and examples. We wonder if it would be better to say we're making 'helpful' or 'playful' robots or even just call them kinetic sculptures. I also like the idea of 'useful and useless' machines as an open ended prompt that supports wide walls. 


And finally we'll be bringing our pop up tent to maker faire and we want to think about ways to create a comfortable and inspiring enviornment. Our plan will be to have a couple of inspirtational machines like Nicole's arduino powered bubble blower (which could count as messy, useful, useless and playful). We also thought about showing videos of cool real-life machines like taffy pullers, shoelace weavers and other examples to get people thinking in new ways. 

East Bay Mini Maker Faire is always one of our favorite events and we're excited to continue prototyping this new idea with local makers in our workshop on the 22nd