Ambiguous Robots

By Louisa Haugaard Pedersen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

From the beginning of March to May 2019, I had the pleasure to go to Ontario in Canada. Here, I visited two Makerspaces that made a special impression on my understanding of makerspaces for makers in the early years. One of the makerspaces emphasised the technical aspect while the other one focused mainly on the artistic part of a makerspace. However, both had in common that a makerspace is about connecting the hand and mind in creating something. Only the makers’ imagination and curiosity settled the boundaries on what and how materials and tools could be used to construct their creations.

The first makerspace was in the Instructional Resource Centre (IRC) at Brock University. This makerspace was designed to facilitate informal learning in a library setting. Supplies for maker-activities were available like a 3D-printer, electronic building blocks and other equipment for STEAM-activities, such as coding robots.

One of the maker experts from IRC was kind enough to demonstrate some of the different robots. I became aware that usually the robots needed to be connected to an iPad to code and control the robot.

Picture collection 1: The CosmoBot turning its head around the room in IRC.

Picture collection 2: The program for the CosmoBot shown on the iPad.

The program on the iPad orientated me to the robot’s functions. I was guided by text messages shown on the iPad screen, whereby the organisation of the robot’s functions was explained. The three key elements of wonder, code and control all together constructed the personality of the robot. These three key elements had to be adjusted to program and tailor the personality of the CosmoBot, so I could use it as I wanted to. It was to some degree advanced for me to program it as a first-time user. Therefore, it turned out to be a rather time-consuming activity before I could actually use the robot and make it do something. Basically, it could just move around the room and react to the instructions I made on the iPad. The iPad worked as a remote to code, control and explore the room through the CosmoBot.

Another interesting robot called the Ozobot was shown to me. This robot was more flexible because more open-ended activities were possible. Lines could be drawn on a blank paper. Combinations of colours created codes as a part of the lines. For example, one combination of colours could make the robot spin around. This was called ‘the tornado’.

Picture collection 3: Programming the Ozobot and watching it move around on a piece of paper with black lines and codes.

The Ozobot as well as the CosmoBot needed to be programmed on the iPad. In this case, the Ozobot had to be placed on the iPad after I had selected and combined different functions. Based on my selections altogether, I had made my combination and collection of codes into a program. Now my programming needed to be installed onto the Ozobot. When I placed it on the iPad screen, it would be changing lighting colours very fast. When this installation was done, I could place it on the black line drawn on the paper. It would move around and react to the colour combination/codes drawn on the paper.

The other makerspace was in the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto. One of the maker-activities was about transforming ordinary materials into far-out sculptures. Here, I found two robot look-alike at the makerspace’s community gallery.

Picture collection 4: The community gallery and robot-sculptures in the makerspace at the AGO.

They seemed quite different from the robots I saw at the makerspace at the IRC. These were made out of paper, picture cut-outs from Magazines, carton, glue and tape. They were formed as squares and had fragmented colourful surfaces. These robots couldn’t move or speak themselves or needed to be programmed with an iPad. Their functions and purpose weren’t obvious to me at first.

Soon, the background for these constructions caught my attention. All of them turned out to be mindfulmaker-creations. These creations represented what was on the children’s mind: what problems they had on their mind, what made them happy and how they could solve a problem, and with what materials and tools they could make what was on their mind happen. The makers’ starting point had been recycled materials placed in some boxes inside the room of the makerspace which they could select and turn into creative constructions with tools like scissors and tape at tables placed around a large open room.

For example, the two robot sculptures represented ideas and visions that were realised in some way. Though the robot sculptures weren’t immediately useful, they apparently turned out to be manifesting visions of what was on their makers’ mind and what mattered for their makers at that very moment these creations had been made. I began to understand that this makerspace was special because a mindful maker not only emphasised what was made, but also what things were made of and what ideas the creations were based on. Also, the very special point of this was that trash was turned into treasures by making  what’s on the maker’s mind. The makerspace demonstrated a way to make so-called trash into something useful.

The two makerspaces made me aware that making can have many facets and fundaments. The purpose of making appeared to be the difference between these two makerspaces. Especially, what was understood as useful making became visible when comparing the two of them.

The first makerspace focused on the new modern aspects of making with digital technology. Here, the focus was on making-activities through coding or with any other hardware and software to give a maker a practical experience with some kind of digital technology. The rationale for the usefulness seemed to be based on the fact that the makers not only comprehended but also practised anticipating the digital world.

The other makerspace, which I categorise as an artistic kind, emphasised making aesthetic expressions with thoughtful use of materials. This makerspace showed me how art is useful because creativity is about looking through the ordinary. The makerspaces’ maker-activities and creations are not less or more useful because the one focusses more on the technical part and the other one on the artistic aspect in making.

The two makerspaces are equally important because both emphasise  the practical experience. The focal point is when hand and mind work together to be and make something useful. So, I learned that makerspaces are not only about making something aesthetic or a technical creation in a special designed big room or workshop, but making can also be about putting what’s on your mind into some creation that can inspire both young and adult makers to make. This is a way to exchange different perspectives on what matters from one maker to another.

I hope my experiences from these two makerspaces can serve as a thoughtful contribution to inspire other makers and makerspaces.

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