Saturday, January 26, 2008
Could Robots Have Survived the Middle Ages?
I recently found out, through a kind of email grapevine, that one of my colleagues here at Southern Illinois, Jerry Weinberg, who is an expert in robotics engineering and also in human-computer interactions, has devised a robotics mini-camp for middle school students, jointly organized by the Edwardsville High School Robotics team and SIUE's Computer Science department titled, "Could Robots Have Survived the Middle Ages?" Of course, my curiosity was piqued: what, exactly, did the question mean? And shouldn't they have a medievalist consultant? Although, as soon as I posed that second question to myself, I realized that I myself have literally no idea how I would begin to posture myself as an expert who could help design faux-historical medieval settings in which robots could "prove" whether or not they could "survive" the Middle Ages. Regardless, I contacted Jerry Weinberg, and said something to the effect of "please oh please let me play some part in this." What I soon discovered is that the question is a bit facetious and playful, and the idea is to stage certain medieval-themed competitions in which robots or robotic contraptions designed by the students would square off against each other. So far, they have designed three of these: a jousting tourney, a trebuchet competition, and a Save the Kidnapped Princess race. Jerry indicated to me that they would be happy to have me come by and observe when all of this happens in February, but they were also wondering if I could plan a "short activity" to "help put the students in a medieval frame of mind before they start to design their robots." I said I would throw that question out to the medievalist blogosphere. So, my friends, how could we collectively begin to design such an activity? And what other medieval-styled robotic competitions would be appropriate?