The Robot Petting Zoo at SXSW

By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Jodi Mixon with Ozobot

Jodi Mixon with Ozobot

For the first year, South by Southwest Interactive featured a “Robot Petting Zoo” at its festival.

A room at the JW Marriott Hotel downtown housed a variety of robots including drones, tiny programmable bug-like Ozobots, an autonomous six-legged social robot known as DAR-1, the Double Robotics telepresence robot and Bujold, one of the most heavily used robots for search and rescue following the 911 World Trade Center disaster.

Robots aren’t just for science fiction movies any longer. They are showing up in the classroom, in the workplace and in the sky with the increasing popularity of drones.

David Santilena, aviation director for Borg Fest

David Santilena, aviation director for Borg Fest

David Santilena, aviation director for Borg Fest, was touting the organization’s series of events in Austin. He showed off Nikko, a mind-controlled flying monkey drone at the event.

“Robots are just extending the abilities of humans,” Santilena said.

Also on display, Ozobot showed off how a tiny circular robotic device can be used to teach children the early stages of coding. Kids can draw color combinations of red, green, blue and black to control the robot on paper or on an iPad. The Ozobot is designed and programmed to remember and playback up to 500 different moves.

The company, based in Redondo Beach, Calif. launched in 2013 and focused on getting more kids involved in coding, said Jodi Mixon with Ozobot. Ozobots costs $49 and can be used both digitally with iPads and on paper.

“I have found an immediate link between social and emotional needs being met with kids working with robotics,” Mixon said. It gets kids away from a screen and gets them working collaboratively.

“They love to interact with it,” she said.

A guy trying out Double Robotics telepresence robot

A guy trying out Double Robotics telepresence robot

In the workplace, Double Robotics, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., sells a telepresence robot for $2,500 that uses two iPads for communications and remote control. The robot rolls around and provides access to places the operator can’t be at physically, said Nick Brewer, head of events for Double Robotics.

“It’s just a tool,” Brewer said. “It’s like a hammer. You can do great things with a hammer. You can do terrible things with a hammer.”

The telepresence robot lets homebound students who can’t attend school, attend school virtually through their robotic presence, Brewer said.

And just for the record, Brewer said, he’s against “killer robots.”

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