ITP Thesis Week - Tweenbots

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

It's thesis week at ITP, where you can go through Friday to watch students present the projects they've been working on - some of them for many years. One of my favorites, first launched by Kacie Kinzer in one of my classes and then expanded, is called Tweenbots.

The concept is pretty simple, and evident in the movie clip above. In Kinzer's words: "Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal."

Of course, the whole thing becomes a really interesting study in human cooperation, machine-human relationships, as well as how a piece of technology's cuteness is a big determining factor in whether it gets what it wants.


  1. Kudos! I think you proved the terrorists didn’t win by operating an unmanned device in a public arena while having a Federal Service Agent not field goal your efforts!

  2. It’s interesting to see that different robots are being planned, but I can’t help but feel that part of the success is attributed to the cartoonish, non-threatening characterization of the bots. What if they had angry faces?

  3. Totally. They actually worked on a few different iterations – the better functioning robot was less cute and got less human assistance: a poorer functioning robot that looked less threatening ended up getting across the park better.

    Interesting what *that* says about Darwinian battle for survival.

  4. This fills my head with totally new pictures of rebellious robots uprising against their human masters. Thanks to their irresistible cuteness and their innocent looks, humans will actively help and support them and thus defeat themselves.

    What a diabolical plan. Man, Skynet really got us by the balls now.

    [Ok, now that the obligatory Skynet/robot uprising joke is done, two remarks:

    1. I agree that seeing the police officer (or whatever she is) help along the cutebot instead of, you know, calling in the bomb squad, is really heartwarming.

    2. That cuteness thing, coupled with the appeal for help works really, really well. It’s something about seeing the little guy* busily striving to reach his goal and trying to scramble over all those impassable obstacles. The man at timecode 2:00, who bends down to read the instructions and then goes away without helping the cutebot? Didn’t you just feel the urge to scream “asshole!” at the selfish, hart-hearted bastard?

    Of course, the cuteness-enhancing music helps. A lot.]

    *I can’t help but antromorphising it. See how well it works?

  5. Awesome. Extra good results, considering New York is probably the worst place to do this. :)

    Looking forward to the show on Sunday…

  6. I’d be more ‘up’ on this project if the bots served a function (other than testing people’s helpfulness)

  7. I’m pretty sure Cory posted this a few weeks ago. I still love it, though. It’s so cute it kinda makes me want to cry.

  8. @#9

    They thank Christian Cerrito for the music (and awesomeness) at the end.

    Hopefully that will at least point you in the right direction (pun intended).


    I loved this vid, very creative idea and entertaining while educational.

Comments are closed.