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LEGO Art Machines

LEGO Art Machines

Over the next couple of months, we'll be working with LEGO Foundation to investigate possibilities for activities that use LEGO as a material for tinkering. We've identified a few starting points that we will use for initial explorations, including both adaptations of current tinkering studio activities and other ideas that are brand new for us. The first thing that we've started messing around with are versions of scribbling machines built with LEGO elements. Over the next few days, we'll be posting some of the advances that we've made with battery enclosures, marker holders, and custom 3D printed parts, but first I wanted to share some of our conversations around some of the similarities and differences with the usual scribbling machine activity.

IMG_0050After some collaborative prototyping with the team here as well as Amos from Lego and others like Josh Burker, an educator from Connecticut, who we've been connecting with through twitter, it's been evident that there are many interesting things about LEGO based art machines. They use motion to create interesting patterns on the table, and they seem to be quite different than scribbling machines, both in terms of the process that you go though to build them and the types of drawings that they produce. Scribbling Machines that use a single hobby motor, AA battery, and hot glue stick produce an erratic motion that gives a certain joy and delight when such simple materials can create such beautiful drawings. There is an unpredictability to their crazy motion and even though there's lots of intentionalilty to adjusting the weight on the motor and it's position on the body, the results often defy expectations. IMG_9599Something different about building art machines with LEGO is that you can be really systematic about testing different variables, from the position of the markers to the speed of the motor. When you are attaching everything together with tape or pipe cleaners, it's almost impossible to go back to a previous version of the design, something that's very easy with the LEGO technic pins. We like that ability to try something out, see what happens, and then be able to go back to the previous version.

IMG_9845Another element that the LEGO drawing machines allow for, is the possibility of incorporating linkages into the designs. The ability to easily connect these complex mechanisms to the motor really adds to the possibilities for intricate mark making machines. We're getting lots of inspiration from Yoshihito Isogawa, who wrote a series of amazing LEGO books describing simple mechanisms, gear systems and linkage contraptions. IMG_9857The LEGO system is super extensive, and the art bots that we've been creating so far can be complexified with sensors, programming from WeDo and scratch, IR controls, and more. While these shouldn't be the starting point for this activity, they point to the high ceiling that we will be sure to explore more later on.

IMG_9627We think that calling these contraptions "LEGO scribbling machines" doesn't really capture the uniqueness of the activity. We've discussed 'art machines', 'mark makers', and 'art bots' so far as possibilities and will continue to think about what makes the most sense. When we try this workshop with Tinkering Studio visitors we'll also notice if drawing is central to the experiences or if people are more interested in the building interesting motions. IMG_0079More importantly than the name, we'll continue to think about the ways that this activity supports our learning dimensions and recognize the advantages and drawbacks of LEGO as a material. Later this week, we'll create more blog posts about the specific elements of these machines and if you want to join in on the latest experiments, follow along on twitter and instagram with the hashtag #LEGOtinkering.