Chico MacMurtrie / Amorphic Robot Works

 

Student fabrication Walking robot Bowing robot Wagging robot Showing off

ARW crew member showing a student how to fabricate the leg of an Amorphic Robot Works Dog Monkey.
Photo: ARW

A student from a Robotics Workshop shows off his Dog Monkey in Nottingham, England.
Photo: ARW

Students brainstorming ideas for their robotic character.
Photo: ARW

Fabrication of the students' final robot concept in wood and styrofoam.
Photo: ARW

Childrens' Workshops: Narrative

Since 1996, Amorphic Robot Works has conducted robot-building workshops for children. The first workshops took place throughout California's Bay Area with partners including the Discovery Museum, Mission Science Workshop and the Museum of Innovation. These workshops developed as an extension of teaching positions MacMurtrie held at the Art Institute of Chicago and San Francisco State University. Since that time, ARW has directed workshops abroad in Austria and Germany with the support of Euro Lego, and has held classes for older children in England as part of an artist's residency MacMurtrie held at Nottingham Trent University. With ARW's relocation to New York City, we hope to make this workshop available for the inspiration of a new audience of young people and potential engineers, draftsmen, and artists, and are currently negotiating programs for school-aged children in the Bronx.

The workshop offers children, ages 8-14, an introduction to robotics. We attempt to expand the children's notion of what a "robot" can be, and provide the tools and hands-on instruction necessary for them to design their own robot with its own, distinct personality. In collaboration with two to three members of ARW, the workshop teaches children fundamental physics (fulcrum and lever principles), the use of tools (cutting, drilling, soldering, the use of motor and micro-switches), sculpting and assembly of materials, and 3-dimensional design through the practice of drawing. The workshop concludes with a public performance in the children's community open to both the students' families and the public-at-large.

The experience of making an idea come to life through robotics not only calls upon the children's focus and creativity, but also exercises their confidence in that creativity by demonstrating their own mastery over matter. Further, by activating and introducing the personalities they have created into the community of robots forged in the workshop, children realize a deeper understanding of themselves as actors in the world. At the end of the workshop, each child will be able to take home a working robot of their own creation. The videotape of the performance and construction process can also be copied for the children if the facility has access to video equipment for dubbing and editing.

Hands-on education in draftmanship or robotic mechanisms rarely occurs until much later in standard educational curricula, if it is offered at all. However, children of the age targeted by this workshop are prepared, and interested in learning basic robotics. These workshops have resulted in exciting outpourings of creativity and ingenuity, and provide the highly unusual opportunity for children ages 8-14 to use basic physical and robotic principles to express themselves both in the act of building, and in public performance. ARW is excited to be able to offer this opportunity to the communities we visit.