Smithsonian’s Pepper Project
Programming a Robot For Museums
The Pepper Project
After receiving a donation of robots from Softbank Robotics, the Smithsonian Institution was faced with the question, “What could robots do in a museum?” As a creative technologist and educator for the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, I quickly became a technical lead for the project, endeavoring to use the robots beyond their intended purpose as novel customer service or way finding tools, while remaining conscious not to devalue anyone’s role within the museum.
Armed with IR and RGB cameras, sonar, tactile sensors, speech, visual and emotional recognition, Pepper provides opportunities to engage the public with museums in alternative and creative ways, and interpret artwork and artifacts.
Equipping the Next Generation
I was born in 1989, experiencing the digitization of the world as I grew up. Like many in my generation, the implications of emerging technologies, both good and bad, were unrecognizable as the only context I had was the digitizing world. Simultaneously, being more immersed than previous generations in emerging technology gave me a unique perspective and deeper insights in certain areas.
Today’s generation of young adults is in a similar situation, but with more powerful technology. Recognizing this, I have created an internship program at the Hirshhorn Museum set to launch in Summer of 2019, to introduce teens to emerging technologies, and the questions they raise. The purpose of the program is not simply to teach robotics, but to break down the technology into its parts, like computer vision, ai, sensors and motors, in order to give them a basis for asking deeper philosophical questions. With the use of open-source education tools like Processing and Arduino, the students will have focused lessons to learn every aspect of the robot.
Being an internship program, however, it is not simply about education, but immersion, as the students will conclude the summer with a capstone, contributing to a custom program for the robots to run within one or more Smithsonian Museums.