‘Junkbots’ presentation shows how simple robots can be

Writer Gareth Branwyn showed students and adults how easy robot-making can really be in his presentation, “Junkbots, BEAMbots and Arty Robotic Plantlife” at Allen Hall on Tuesday.

The evening was based around building “bottom-up robots,” or robots that are as simple as possible. These robots have no brain or chips to help them function; only switches and motors. The simplest robot being built was called a “vibro-bot,” or “brush-bot,” a robot that consists only of a toothbrush head and a pager motor. Other robots that were being built were the “beetle-bot” and a “larson scanner.” These were more advanced than the “brush-bot,” requiring the use of a soldering gun.

Members of the audience broke into groups for this hands-on project, working together to finish the necessary steps. Branwyn, also a Guest-in-residence at Allen Hall, supervised, helping students when they ran into problems or needed materials.

Laura Haber, the program director of Unit One and coordinator of the guest-in-residence program, said guest-in-residence speakers, along with Branwyn’s presentation, “expose students to unfamiliar ideas” and give them an opportunity to “forge new paths.” She said she wants students to see how people have made their own interesting, unique way in the world.

Branwyn shows how “people can make and invent their own technological projects” and that they don’t have to buy them, Haber added.

Branwyn has had an interest in building robots since he was a little kid, when he first saw the building sets on television for Christmas, hoping that if he bought one, it would do his chores for him. From his presentation, he said he wants students to realize how simple a robot can really be. Many people think robots require lots of processing power, such as C3PO from “Star Wars,” but they actually “work better when they’re dumber than that,” Branwyn said.

Mark Slattery, sophomore in Engineering, is no stranger to robots. He said he’s “done stuff like this before, and it’s lots of fun.” He wants to take his passion into the future, inventing “cool stuff” like Branwyn does.

Branwyn will be giving two more presentations Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday’s presentation is entitled “Why William Blake is Punk Rock!” a look into how William Blake was one of history’s most forward thinkers. Thursday’s is “The Happy Mutant Handbook,” a presentation on culture jamming, reality hacking and the cultivation of the “perpetual novelty brain jack.”