Ready for Robots

This semester, Fall 2016, is a busy one, with two conference papers, one at the American Folklore Society and another at Social Informatics, and a book manuscript due, but being so busy also means I am looking forward to some down time, and spending that time with my daughter who has some interest in robots. So I’ve started collecting information — some tips here, some projects there — to keep us busy during the winter months.

Make magazine is always a good source, and I’ve come across a couple of pages worth holding onto for the time being:

Milgram’s Robots

In a recent re-running of the Milgram experiment, a German researcher replaced the human subjects on the other side of the switch with a robot and discovered that humans assigned to switch the robot off have qualms about doing so when the robot, in a sense, pleads for its life. The experiment follows another staged in 1996 where humans interacted with a computer that was either helpful or not. Interesting series of experiments spread across a rather impressive range of years. The focus of the research is on the importance of reciprocity in human psychology. The NPR write-up suggests that the scientists conclude that reciprocity is built-in. [Link to NPR report][]. [Link to researcher’s website][].

[Link to NPR report]:
[Link to researcher’s website]:


* [RethinkRobots]( has the right idea: an anthropomorphic robot that is easy to train and can be bought for $22,000. Check out this ( *And, they didn’t name him Robby…*
* [Robot Living]( promises robot news everyday.
* [DIY Drones]( is the irrepressible Chris Anderson’s latest project. *What can’t that man do?*

Robot Roundup

As my daughter gets older, she gets closer and closer to that moment when I get to try to convince her to be as fascinated with robots as I am. Lego Mindstorms already purchased for seven year old? Check. Bin full of old electrical motors and gears ready for spontaneous robot making? Check. Robot events? Check:

* Robot Events has [listings of BEST events](
* Carnegie Mellon has a [Robot Academy](

Pi Raspberry PC picks up a Gert Board

The possibility for robotics at home just got a lot more interesting. I have been following the development of the Pi Raspberry board, which promises the ability to have a basic computer for something like $25. (I imagine building a custom home file server with something like that, or even re-wiring an old laptop!) It turns out that a Broadcom employee, Gert von Loo, has been experimenting with an add-on board that has the ability to communicate with other kinds of devices. The video above shows a C program, but he notes that one could just as easily use Python or even a shell script. The motor in the video is capable of lifting 60kg.

Getting Started with Arduino

It’s hard to say which is more interesting right now: Lego Mindstorms or the Arduino stuff. Once the book is done, I want to spend more time exploring both before deciding to invest in one — and they do represent an investment of money and time. I definitely want not only to play and learn for myself but also to make it possible for Lily to play and learn, if she is so inclined.

The Maker Shed has a slightly expanded version of the [Getting Started with Arduino Kit][1] on sale right now.


Android Just Got a Lot More Interesting

At last week’s I/O Conference, Google had a variety of announcements, but the one that caught my attention was that they are releasing a developer’s kit to allow Android devices to interact with the Arduino platform. Long-time readers of Make magazine know about Arduino: it’s an open source hardware platform. Think of it as the next step after Lego Mindstorms. (If Genius Loci is finished by then, and I hope it is, I am so putting Mindstorms on my Christmas list.) The Make Blog has excellent coverage.

Here’s a link to the live coverage. If I have done my job right, then the link will take you right to the 36:00 mark where the keynote speakers talk about the ADK and Arduino: watch the video.

Computers and Robots of Old

In the process of wondering in a recent issue of [Asimov’s][1] about what kinds of litigation robots will spawn in the near future, Robert Silverberg provides a terrific, [brief history of fictional robots][2], from Gelula’s “Automaton” of 1931 to AT&T’s Zippy. I began looking around for more histories of robots, and of computers, too, and came across two great lists:

* Joshua Glenn’s [The Coolest Robots of Pre-Golden Age SF](, and
* Bruce Franklin’s [Computers in Fiction](

I know that Willard McCarty has begun a history of computers and computing in more serious forms of discourse, but his survey may have already encompassed these examples. If not, then there is something to be done here.