Tag Archives: CSAIL

Robot Garden hopes to make coding more accessible for everyone

This robotic garden demonstrates distributed algorithms with more than 100 origami robots that can crawl, swim and blossom.

Created by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the aptly named Robot Garden is a defined as “a system that functions as a visual embodiment of distributed algorithms, as well as an aesthetically appealing way to get more young students, and particularly girls, interested in programming.”


At its core, the project is a tablet-operated system that illustrates MIT’s cutting-edge research on distributed algorithms using robotic sheep that were created through traditional print-and-fold origami techniques, origami flowers (including lilies, tulips and birds of paradise) that are embedded with printable motors enabling them to ‘blossom’ and change colors, as well as magnet-powered robotic ducks that fold into shape by being heated in an oven.

“Students can see their commands running in a physical environment, which tangibly links their coding efforts to the real world. It’s meant to be a launchpad for schools to demonstrate basic concepts about algorithms and programming,” explains Lindsay Sanneman, a lead author on the recently-accepted paper for the 2015 International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

The project is comprised of 16 different tiles, each connected to an Atmel based Arduino board and programmed using search algorithms that explore the space in different ways. The garden itself can be controlled by any Bluetooth-enabled device, either through clicking on flowers individually or a more advanced “control by code” feature that calls for users to add their own commands and execute sequences in real-time. In fact, users can interact with the garden through a computer interface, allowing them to select a tile and inflate/deflate the flower or change the color of its pedals.


“The garden tests distributed algorithms for over 100 distinct robots, which gives us a very large-scale platform for experimentation,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus, who is also a co-author of the paper. “At the same time, we hope that it also helps introduce students to topics like graph theory and networking in a way that’s both beautiful and engaging.”

The project was recently displayed at CSAIL’s “Hour of Code” back in December, where it surely did its part in inspiring kids to get interested in STEM-related disciplines. In the near future, the researchers hope to make the garden operable by multiple devices simultaneously, and may even experiment with interactive auditory components such as microphones and music that would sync to movements.

Interested? Head over to MIT’s official page here, and be sure to watch the garden in action below.

MIT wins prize for $20 AVR robot

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) recently received top honors in multiple categories at an international competition focused on designing affordable, classroom-friendly robots.

The team from CSAIL Director Daniela Rus’ Distributed Robotics Lab earned first place in the hardware and curriculum categories for a printable, origami-inspired Segway robot dubbed SEG at the “Ultra-Affordable Robot” competition sponsored by the African Robotics Network (AFRON) and the IEEE Robotics and Automaton Society.

The design by Rus, Ankur Mehta, Joseph DelPreto, Benjamin Shaya and Lindsay Sanneman, allows an individual to build a printable, Atmel AVR-powered (tinyAVR/Arduino Pro depending on version) robot for as little as $20, in just five steps.

The small robot – made of polyester – moves around on two large wheels and is capable of avoiding obstacles with an onboard sensing and navigation system. The team also adapted graphical drag-and-drop software that’s convenient for first-time programmers, while simultaneously developing a curriculum that teaches students some basic control systems to implement with SEG.


“We’re excited to have been able to make some really encouraging upgrades to our prototype in such a way that it is more effective, more intuitive and more affordable,” said Mehta. “With this kind of progress, we envision a future where robots that can help you with important daily tasks could be printed for a few dollars from your desktop printer.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the project’s official page here, along with the relevant files and instructions.