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TouristBot – Social Engagement Through Autonomy



Having decided to attend Brickfair with my friend Lee (as previously chronicled), I needed some MOCs (My Own Creations) to display. I had a few ideas and existing MOCs I had to bring to Washington, D.C. with me, but had an idea for a picture taking Mindstorms robot that I had felt I could bring to fruition in the few weeks between deciding to go and actually traveling south.

IMG_0327The first steps came as I pulled out the Mindstorms kit and began building the framework. As the framework came together, the first of the changes to my original concept came as I chose to make the robot mobile. The base of the framework was built onto wheels and motors to allow the robot to move around to take pictures – knowing I would not be able to let the robot move around during Brickfair, I still felt it would be good for future use.

IMG_0329The second in progress design addition came as I built out the more human aspects of the robot. As I was developing the idea, I had the notion that it would be fun to play with the tourist theme as a picture taking robot, which would mean giving the robot shoulders, arms and a head to hold up the hawaiian shirt. As I was building the left arm, I saw the touch sensor in the box and thought it might work as the hand. Originally, I had planned to have the robot take pictures on its own on a regular interval, but the touch sensor added a whole new dynamic that allowed it to interact with the attendees at the convention. This little addition was the strongest concept added during the building.


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The rest of the build went rather quickly, even if the right arm gearing to trigger the camera went through several revisions until a simplistic answer was found and implemented. The programming went through a few revisions as well, as I hadn’t programmed in the NXT language very much and needed to learn it quickly. Within several hours, the programming was written to take pictures every two and a half minutes – a time limitation based on the Canon digital camera turning itself after three minutes of idle time – or when a user presses the button on the hand.


With the construction completed, all that was left was to display TouristBot and watch the reactions. TouristBot was the first of my creations to be unpacked and set up, so it could take pictures of people setting up their creations. A time lapse of building and setting up was created, and a sign was put up telling passers by that they could press the button and take the picture themselves. At the recommendation of fellow NXT builders, a little sign saying “Press” with an arrow was taped to the button to let people know which button to push. (not that there weren’t individuals who didn’t try to just push the button on the camera itself).

TouristBot was instantly noticed by the regular flashing coming from the camera. People often came over to see what the robot was doing, and most wanted to try it themselves and took a self portrait. From 11 to 4 on Saturday and Sunday, there was a steady stream of people lining up to try the robot and have their pictures taken by TouristBot. Children were quick to see the sign and push the button, while parents who lagged behind would warn the children not to touch until they saw the sign themselves, and they often took a picture after their child did.

TouristBot became part Lego display, part social media engagement, and part art project. A mix of time lapse photos and portraits gave a unique look at Brickfair that allowed people to see on Flickr a look at the convention from the perspective of one of the MOCs. A table top view of the room that they had roamed over the course of three days. TouristBot’s world expanded through social media to share his unique perspective via his Twitter, Flickr, and Gmail.

TouristBot is not limiting his existence to a single Lego convention and is looking to be displayed elsewhere. To keep track of his adventures or to have him make an appearance, follow him on his social networks or via email. To see all the pictures he took at Brickfair, check his Brickfair collection on Flickr.

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