Children as young as eight can use Fable, the robot module set, to build their own robots.
Fable is the name of a system of robot modules than can be assembled in seconds to create a robot arm, for example, or a little vehicle. Once that has been done, it is a simple matter to use the computer programming tool to issue commands to the robot—which then does at it has been told. In fact, it is so simple that even second-grade pupils can do it. This is hardly surprising, given that Fable was originally designed as a teaching tool.
Fable was developed at DTU and became a spin-out in 2015. The initial focus is to convert the research prototype into a product suitable for sale to primary and secondary schools as a teaching aid.
“Skills in the field of technology and programming are important today, and taking current technological development into account, there is every reason to believe they will be even more so in the future. However, Fable may also help expand children’s knowledge in other areas. For example, if the assignment is to have the robot control a laser pointer that is to draw a given figure on the surface, you have to know geometry, and you have to understand distances and angles,” relates David Johan Christensen, Associate Professor at DTU Electrical Engineering and one of the driving forces behind Fable.
The idea of making modular robots was a natural extension of David Johan Christensen’s working relationship with LEGO, where he spent three years helping the company develop new, interactive LEGO bricks.
“It actually all started with our wanting to build a system that would make it easy for us to run experiments with different types of robot—when testing a new artificial intelligence algorithm, for instance”.
However, the teaching robots showed so much potential that school pupils were given top priority. Since then, other researchers have been quick to note the possibilities in Fable. For instance, it is being used in The Human Brain Project, where Fable robots are controlled by a model brain to test whether the brain can actually teach the robot something.
“I sometimes compare Fable with a screwdriver. You can learn to use it as a five-year-old, and the skills you pick up last you a lifetime. Later on, you may choose to do some really advanced work with the screwdriver, but the tool remains the same,” explains David Johan Christensen, who has not yet spotted any serious competitors to Fable on the market.
“Our biggest competitor at the moment is probably LEGO Mindstorms, but it takes hours to build one of their robots, and each model is, in principle, designed to have a given look and work in a certain way. With Fable, you can build relatively advanced robots in a matter of seconds, and they can then do whatever you program them to. The modules are sufficiently robust that the robot can fulfil actual functions, so the only limit is your imagination,” adds David Johan Christensen, who personally dreams of building a robot to do the gardening, and another that can tidy up the children’s room.
Article by Karoline Lawætz, DTU News