In July of 2009, we conducted a 2-week robot design workshop in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, Youth Art Connection. Youth Art Connection is a specialized program within the Boys & Girls Club for high school students who are interested in the arts. It allows them to work with designers, artists, and arts educators.
Most youth robotics programs emphasize technical content; they are designed to teach the definitions and capabilities of components, such as sensors and actuators, and programming in the context of developing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge. As an alternative, we are developing youth robotics programs with a different perspective and agenda. Through design and art, our goal is to work with youth to explore the novel views of the urban environment that robotics provide, and reveal and question possible future relations between people, technology, and the city. Our youth robotics programs emphasize creative, critical, and above all, speculative approaches to understanding and engaging with robotics.
During the 2-week workshop, the youth were introduced to the basic concepts of robotics through the “Sense-Think-Act” paradigm. We worked together with the youth in a variety of activities, including exploring downtown Atlanta with environmental sensors to understand how robots might perceive the environment, and constructing basic kinetic mechanisms that reacted to sensor readings. After a week of introduction to robotics, the youth spent a week conceiving and prototyping robots designed to exist in downtown Atlanta. Rather than focusing on pragmatic applications of robotics technologies, the youth were encouraged to develop designs that speculatively combined their personal interests and desires with the near-future capabilities of robotics. The program culminated in an informal exhibition of their work at which they displayed and discussed their designs.