A prototype robot that requires help from humans to find nearby batteries. This challenges the conventional understanding of human-robot relations—‘robots are meant to help humans’—through a simple reversal. We aimed to make LOLA appear cute, as this would encourage nearby humans to personalize her behaviour and motivate them to actually assist her.
In terms of physicality, LOLA is a small robot with two large wheels used to move around her environment. She has a front-mounted webcam, easily perceived as a face, which she uses to sense her environment. She has a small speaker mounted behind the webcam and two short metallic arms that oscillate up-and-down, which combined allow her to express herself through visual, auditory, and tactile means. She pulls a small trailer behind her, which rides atop two smaller wheels. Two USB cables (her ‘umbilical cord’) connect her to a nearby laptop used for visual processing and behaviour sequencing.
LOLA’s task is to collect AA batteries that have been marked with lime green duct tape. She cannot physically put the batteries into her trailer, but she finds the batteries, parks in front of one, and proceeds to beep and flail until someone helps her. The vivid colour of duct tape was used to make the visual processing easier.
Her ‘brains’ are made with a combination of Arduino and Max. Initial algorithms for LOLA’s visual processing were patterned after Braitenberg Vehicles, but the final instantiation instead uses an algorithm that approximates the horizontal position of green objects in her visual field. When the average amount of green in her visual field increases beyond a certain threshold, a sequence is triggered that alternates every second between arm oscillations and rapid beeps of random frequencies. This sequencing is done in Max to avoid synchronizations issues in Arduino, and so LOLA’s arm positions and speaker frequency are directly controlled through Max.