Cast Aways

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m something of a hoarder, gathering bits and pieces of technology that have the potential for a second act as part of a robot. These cast aways have been coming along nicely over the last few months. I just finished a workshop for teachers where we built robots and drew all over the floor of the Media Lab at Mount Holyoke with them. I’ll be posting more on the robots made of trash in the coming weeks and months, stay tuned.

castaways

A Group of Drones is Called…

draught-of-dronesAlthough mapping a whole mountain in an afternoon is pretty cool, I don’t think three drones constitute a “fleet,” as the article puts it. But this raises the interesting question of what the collective noun for drones might be. There are enough of them around these days to merit such an honorific.

Examples from nature range from the alliterative (gaggle of geese) to the evocative (pride of lions) and the downright strange (murder of crows). So how about a “draft” of drones? I like the connotation with drawing or pulling since drones often do both, whether shouldering a load or mapping their environment.

“The Matterhorn was mapped in six hours by a draft of drones that launched from the summit.” Hmm, that has a nice ring to it.

The Reach of Our Senses

The news that the Voyager Spacecraft has left the solar system and entered interstellar space fills me with happiness. Launched in 1977 – the year I was born – this little tendril of technology has extended our senses to the planets and now to the edge of our celestial neighborhood. You can actually hear a change in pitch from Voyager’s sensors as it passes the interstellar boundary. It senses, and communicates.

voyager

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Would You Kill A Robot?

“Christoph Bartneck of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand recently tested whether humans could end the life of a robot as it pleaded for survival.” –No Mercy For Robots, NPR

Broken Hard DriveThe answer is yes, most people will terminate a robot with hardly a second thought. But most people don’t see robots as alive, even when they are programmed to beg for their lives.

Furthermore, the robots he used fall somewhere between a bacteria and a paramecium on the scale of complexity. Even with an acknowledgement of life, most people don’t think twice about stepping on bugs.

A better question might be, “Would you kill a robot that is a part of your life, one which has shared in your experiences, holds some of your thoughts, and has memories of you and your loved ones?” Anyone who has suffered the death of a hard drive knows the answer to that question. Such a loss is a personal tragedy, complete with very real anguish and even mourning. That’s why I back up my digital photos and videos religiously – two brains are better than one.

Life on Mars

There’s something about a nuclear-powered alien that falls from the sky, looks around with its dozen or so electric eyes, and then begins blasting things with a laser that makes me smile. But then, I’m not a Martian.

first color panorama from mars

View of Mars from our Bot on the Spot

The Times described NASA’s latest exploit as “a triumph of scientific technology,” and it is certainly a triumph. But technology is not so much scientific as science is technological. Science relies on instruments, such as Galileo’s telescopes and the latest NASA probe, to extend human senses far beyond what biology has provided us with. Continue reading