Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Programmable Robot for Christmas Fun!

Something fun arrived in a package just in time for Christmas! Dash and Dot are two programmable robot toys, developed by Wonder Workshop (formerly Play-i), for kids 5 years and older to learn programming. I pre-ordered these in December 2013 and due to repeatedly delayed shipment, did not expect them to arrive in time for this Christmas. So it was a pleasant surprise as they arrive just in time in Singapore!

As Zenn and Hugh, my 4-year-old and 2-year-old, did not ask for this, I told them it was Papa’s toy. On the morning of Christmas day, we unwrapped our presents, and Zenn was insatiably curious what Papa had got in the big box from Santa. I wasn’t sure at first if they would be interested in Dash and Dot, but they quickly found ways to interact with them as soon as I hooked the toys up using some iPad’s apps.

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Dash, the robot seen in the following picture, has to be synced with an iPad over bluetooth to be told (i.e., programmed) what to do. The basic app that even Hugh can use if the Go app. The Go app provides touch screen control of Dash to move in any directions, moves its head up/down, left/right, and also its LEDs lightings. While Zenn is old enough to formulate imaginative scenarios, Hugh’s controls are more random but to him is equally fun. Here, they are taking turns to control Dash and see what he can do.

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I taught the boys how to make Dash “talk” (i.e., saying “hi” or making sounds like “meow”). Zenn quickly learned that it could interact with his favorite Red Panda. All except the robot was reacting somewhat incoherently tp the panda’s presence as Hugh was controlling it randomly.

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Another app that is within Zenn’s capacity to use is Path. Path allows the kids to plot a line from Dash’s position to anywhere on a grid. The kids can also insert way points at which Dash will perform actions (e.g., vibrate or make a sound). This way, Dash can be commanded to move from one point to another through many different ways.

Wonder Workshop also provides a Blockly app, which is in effect Scratch but customized for the two robots. Using Blockly is mostly beyond Zenn. At his age, Zenn can certainly understand a sequence of actions, while loops may be a little too complex for him. But using Blockly also requires reading and Zenn is still picking up on this skill. I mostly use Blockly to create interactions that the boys have found fun. For example, Dash can be made to respond to human voice, such as to reply “hi” and look/walk towards the direction of that voice.

Zenn and Hugh are certainly taking an interest in these robots. Yesterday, Hugh was asking to play with it. These gadgets are certainly not replacements for their favorite activities (e.g., drawing, play doh, scooting, and cars), and is more effective if an adult can join as their play partner. But I am glad the robots are finding acceptance as part of their arsenals of imaginative play things–and quite modifiable ones at that!

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update:

Amazingly, both of them (but Hugh particularly) still ask to play with the Dash. They have figured out the Dash’s basic movements, and love recording their own voices so that Dash would ‘say’ things. More recently, we started building lego on Dash using the connectors.

A book by Jaron Lanier on “Who Owns Our Future”

Every ten years or so, we will witness a new technology that impacts our lives. There was electricity, computer, digital media, Internet, and social media (we are still living this). But at times, these innovations also create unexpected consequences to our society. Previously, I had written about problems faced by peer producers creating and sharing software for free.  And I also wrote about how a better division of wealth between corporate IP owners and free sharing content creators could result in a more sustainable production eco-system. I have no idea how this balance could be achieved among monolithic organization; but Lanier, in this book, discussed some fruits for thought.

In a nutshell, Lanier argued that (as many researchers in media studies and games already did) that social media are really informative and enjoyable due in part to free giving content creators. But companies are currently appropriating these user created content for their own profits–due in part to the ways copyright laws are historically formulated. What we need is a system in which “nanopayments” could be paid to content contributors, so as a achieve a fairer division of wealth within, an effectively, a new production eco-system. (I admit that I am missing key points where Lanier discussed wealth as being increasingly centralized by a few companies at the detriment of the middle class. And that nanopayments can help enrich the middle class. I felt that these are more speculative and may be something to be left to the backburner.)

While Lanier did not discuss how nanopayment systems could be designed, I felt that the degree which the problems Lanier mentioned are real and urgent is a strong justification for some slacks in his proposal. This is afterall a starting point for stakeholders (us) to consider if the way we are dividing wealth among Internet participants is flawed, and if so, what should we do about it?  Overall, a very thought provoking read.