Thursday, February 2, 2012

The PR2 goes to The Tech Museum for Hack the Future 3

This past weekend was Hack the Future 3 at The Tech Museum in San Jose.  Hack The Future is a self-directed hackathon for young future hackers. Mentors from different companies and backgrounds are there with different stations for the kids to participate in. Willow Garage and the PR2 robot were there for kids to go ahead and hack.  It was an all day event, and parents and kids arrived early, waiting at the entrance for the museum doors to open.

I've been working at Willow Garage to help organize their education outreach in the community.  The company had participated in a previous Hack the Future and was eager to increase their educational impact on the community and simplify their material to allow the youngest of minds to be able to try their hand at hacking and robotics.  It's a pretty substantial milestone for a technology when you can finally simplify it enough for novices to be able to use it and gain enough from it to get them interested in the field to then further the entire industry.

We had six mentors from Willow Garage show for the occasion.  Because we had the people to support it, we brought two PR2 robots to the event!  It was a treat for the kids, because the previous year we had one robot.  You know what they say, double the robots, double the fun!  (They probably don't say this, but robots are a relatively new invention, so it deserves the new phrase.)

I noticed that the PR2 was particularly skilled in the art of disguise...

So I create a complimentary game that could challenge the kids in programming and also engage observer in participating.  I created some charade cards and passed them out to the kids to challenge them to have the other kids guess what the action, object, expression, or animal that they were trying to convey was.

The kids had their choice of two different software interfaces.  The first, graphical, and the second was Python code that the kids could write or modify.

Here is a screenshot of the graphical interface, PRpuppet as designed by Andreas:

The head controls rotate the head side to side or to look up or down.  The robot grippers can be opened or closed and rotated.  The arms could also be moved by telling the robots the coordinates of where you would wish the robot's wrist to be using the sliders.  The user could simply hit 'Test Pose' and the robot in the simulator would move to the desired position.  By clicking 'Add Pose' a line of code would be created.  By adding different lines of code (or robot position snapshots) you could have the robot move through the series of poses.

We noticed that this user interface was easy enough for young kids to be able to use.  With the help of Steve, Willow Garages' CEO, a 5 year old was able to program the robot to hug her.  Next time they will hopefully remember to program the robot to un-hug afterwards!

For the Python code I had created a tutorial to help written code seem more intuitive.  Sarah helped test the robots limits to make sure the numbers we were giving the kids were accurate.  She also took on a couple of the charade challenges for user testing before the actual event.  We had code that the kids could cut and paste and modify, but it seemed that with the tutorial kids became confident and would start the code from scratch.

Steve and Austin created a nice web interface and queue that allowed kids to submit their programs from a browser on their own computers.
Over the course of the day we were able to make some neat additions to the code's funcation like Caroline's added feature that would have the robot wait until seeing a person's face before doing the next action.

Overall the event was a big success and we had some kids at our station all day, programming some great PR2 charades.  Here are a few, can you figure out what they are?

Hint: Action

Hint: Animal

Our big interactive upcoming exhibit will be at The Tech Museum Weekends May 5th-June 10.  Come and program the PR2 robot yourself!