Build Your Own Tweenbot (video)

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Build Your Own Tweenbot Big
Tweenbot, the robot navigated by human assistance, could becoming to a kit near you.

It’s about time you started running your own social experiments using robots instead of relying upon scientists to do it for you. Luckily, Tweenbot is coming to help you. The diminutive rolling robot with a body of cardboard is the brainchild of Kacie Kinzer from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. Kinzer used Tweenbot to test how humans would guide and help a cute robot as it tried to navigate across potentially dangerous terrain. Tweenbot made it to its destination 100% of the time, thanks to strangers who would see the slowly rolling robot, read the instructions on an attached flag, and point it in the right direction. Now Kinzer wants to bring that social experiment to the world by selling cheap Tweenbot kits, but first she needs your help. You can fund her Tweenbot kit endeavor by donating on Kickstarter. Give $65 or more and you’ll kit a Tweenbot of your very own. Check out the video of Tweenbot in NYC below, followed by Kinzer’s appeal for financing, and her presentation at PopTech. A cool psych experiment wrapped up in a cute cardboard frame that’s about to go global – I love Tweenbot!

The results seen with Tweenbot are pretty interesting. Not only did humans help it get to where it was going they often expressed concern over the robot’s saftey, and some even repaired it when it broke down. Overall, the first Tweenbot required the assistance of 29 strangers to cross Washington Square Park in Manhattan in 42 minutes. But that’s simply the first round of experimentation that’s possible. As Kinzer describes in her Kickstarter video, Tweenbot could help explore the complex social dynamics between robots and humans not just in one park in NYC, but in areas all across the world.

For those who read our original coverage of the Tweenbot project, you know that the robot itself is really low tech. Just some plastic wheels that carry it at a constant speed, a cute body, and a flag with instructions. Yet even that simple design requires some significant capital to start mass production. To that end, a good chunk of money raised by Kickstarter will go to setting up things like injection molding. The far more interesting expense, however, should be the upgrades to the Tweenbot web presence that Kinzer has planned. Not only will she be enabling users to create their own robot adventures around the world, but they’ll be able to share those videos and stories on a dedicated Tweenbot site. Social networking for robots with penchants for psychological experimentation…no, nothing can go wrong there.

Tweenbot is a fairly simple robot for a fairly simple concept, but there are many things we could learn from watching the robot roll through our cities. Are some cultures more open to helping robots? Does age play a factor? How about education, etc? In effect, the Tweenbot project is looking to crowd-source the answers to these questions and more. It makes sense then that they’re crowd-sourcing the funding as well. As always with Kickstarter, if the project doesn’t raise its financial goal ($35k in this case) by a predetermined date (May 25th for Tweenbot), then all the pledged money returns to its donors. There’s really little risk, and if you’re willing to fork out $65 you’ll even get your own robot to celebrate your help with Kinzer’s vision. If Kinzer’s appeal above wasn’t enough to convince you, then maybe her talk at PopTech a few years ago will (see the video below). As our global culture continues to become more obsessed with robotics, simple experiments like Tweenbot could be a valuable tool in understanding what humans expect from, and are willing to give, their new mechanical brethren.

[image credit: Tweenbot]

[source: Tweenbot, Kickstarter]