Tweenbots Examine Human-Machine Empathy
The Tweenbots project by Kacie Kinzer examines the random kindness of strangers. She designed tiny smiling cardboard robots that rely on the help of pedestrians to get to their destination. The Tweenbots roll at a constant speed, in a straight line and are dependent on humans to steer them in the right direction to reach their final location (which is printed on a flag attached to the robot’s body).
Kinzer talks about the results of the experiment:
The results were unexpected. Over the course of the following months, throughout numerous missions, the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the robot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged. Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the “right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, “You can’t go that way, it’s toward the road.”
The Tweenbot’s unexpected presence in the city created an unfolding narrative that spoke not simply to the vastness of city space and to the journey of a human-assisted robot, but also to the power of a simple technological object to create a complex network powered by human intelligence and asynchronous interactions. But of more interest to me was the fact that this ad-hoc crowdsourcing was driven primarily by human empathy for an anthropomorphized object.
See the Tweenbots in action below.