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Cubelets are little robotic blocks that you can snap together to make bigger robots that drive around, do smart things, and act like they’re alive. With

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Experimenting With Interpretive Dance

By: Modular Robotics

Look at that, I made some robot art.

Actually, if we look deeper, that’s a bit of a lie. (Don’t tell Santa! I’m on the “nice” list so far this year!) Keep reading to understand why.

On day 11 of our Invent Calendar, we challenged our fans to create some robot art. Earlier this year, one of our wonderful education fans posted a video of some of her students creating art with Cubelets!
This robotic spirograph is a wonderful example of the creativity that emerges when children build and play with tiny robots. It also got me thinking about how to make more robot art.

In fostering my inner “ar-teest,” I decided to do something more ambitious than a robotic spirograph. I wanted to show another way of creating art with robots. I decided to take a long exposure photograph that would capture the sound of our robot factory as interpreted by a robot from that factory. Meta!
To accomplish this, I constructed two robots and asked our software developer to build a fancy Scratch program to govern them. The first robot used two Microphone Sensors to record the ambient noise level of our SMT line and ultrasonic-welding machine. This data was passed via bluetooth to a Scratch program that recorded the values of each sensor.

The second robot used the recorded values to drive two motors that caused the robot to “dance” to the “music” of our factory. By taping a couple glowsticks to the robot and shooting a 90 second exposure, I was able to capture the sound of our factory as interpreted by a robot built in that factory.

At first glance, it might appear that I was responsible for this “art.” That interpretation fails to account for the contribution of the robots. The robots recorded the sound of their creation and translated that sound into motion

Look deeper to see the people and the machines responsible for making these robots. The dance captured by this photo is more than the sound of a robot factory; it is the embodiment of the effort of the Elves who assembled each robot block. Embedded within these blocks are the efforts of the engineers who designed the system. The Scratch program that captured the sounds of the machines that are maintained by our production engineers played a critical role too. Go further still and you’ll find a company of people who contributed to this image.

Without the support of fans like you, we wouldn’t be able to afford any of this. Without the creative spark from children playing with Cubelets, I might never have attempted this project. Without the work of our founder to create Cubelets, there wouldn’t have been a spark in the first place.

In recognizing all the unintentional contributions that went into making this image, it is apparent that I had little to do with the result. This image is more than the moments of interpretive dance that I captured with a camera. It documents a powerful example of emergent behaviors, or a single recognizable result that comes out of many small causes and effects joining together. In this case, we see the end result of thousands of actions from individual agents in a complex system of robots, people, factory equipment, and more, producing this single behavior that emerges from all of those contributions.

So while this image isn’t particularly beautiful, the system that led to each swirl of light is.


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