Affective learning through physical computing : ArtBot

ArtBot is a flexible hardware programmable drawing machine/robot. It is designed to engage students in exploring the key concepts and qualities of computational processes without the intermediary of a computer.

Control over its procedural action is exclusively exposed through its tactile hardware interface. The challenge in its design consists of exploring how to abstract fundamental programmatic constructs as a hardware interface that is available for continuous and open augmentation and extension.


Research Question:

How do we create a pedagogical platform for creative technology that doesn’t rely on a system of ‘closed abstraction’? Is a system of ‘open abstraction’ the opposite and what might that look like in a programmable robotics project? Part of the challenge of teaching code is that so much needs to be learnt before a student can achieve a useful self-directed outcome. The idea for coding projects often lie outside the knowledge and skill set of learner programmers and developers. This is particularly true of younger students (age 5 to 10). In answer to this conundrum many programs build elaborate systems of closed abstraction – these might be described as ‘learning environments’ in which developers build ‘sandbox’ environments that use pseudo-code as a means of teaching programming concepts. Is it possible to build an alternative system of open-abstraction that allows students to immediately explore the potential of code and procedural instructions in interaction with the real world but which is open and extensible – indeed which encourages autonomous extension, adaptation and development that extends the platform itself.

This research project was born of a problem – How do we introduce the value and qualities and explore the potential of programmable machines to a student body without requiring them to immediately deal with the myriad details of programming syntax and structure. How can we introduce robotics in way that avoids taking production of a robot as an end in itself – that explores what both code and robotics might be actually be good for and therein provides affective impetus for hacking, augmenting and extending that platform.


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Additional Resources:


A good page documenting all the gondola designs  for vertical pen potters:

And interesting Creative Robotics project from Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders;

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s ‘Tape Recorders’ (2011)

Not quite a robot – but maybe an artbot – worth querying what it means to define something as a robot – there seems to be something about indeterminacy and automation …. but beyond that a kind of autonomous projection in terms of both anticipation and space/time.

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