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Students Turn Robots Into Typographers

Robots are only as smart as their programmer, a fact that media and interaction design students at the Swiss arts university ECAL highlight in a clever video featuring Thymio robots spelling out sentences through ingenious methods.

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Thymio robots are relatively simple to program—they’re educational tools targeted to school children—and are equipped with numerous sensors that respond to light and gestures. The workshop, led by Alain Bellet, explores the robot’s creative potential in a simple project: use it to create words in the following phrase:

“The good thing about robots is that they do what you tell them to do. And, the bad thing about robots is that they do what you tell them to do.”

The students had one week to learn how the machines worked. “The way you program a robot is forces you to be very pragmatic,” Bellet says. “When you ‘run’ the script the robot moves—it becomes more tangible and I think that’s a good way to learn programming.”


Some of the students used it to outline letters in sugar, others programmed it to pop balloons that each have a character on them, and a team had their robots seal envelopes that reveal letter cutouts when folded. “The video is a sort of essay, bringing in a funny reflection about our relation with robots,” Bellet says.

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