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Become a Kidsteam kid

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Since 1998, we have been developing robotic animals that enable children to be  storytellers.  With this robot, kids can build any animal they want by putting together special robotic animal parts such as paws, wings, and horns. After the animal is constructed, children can tell stories with the My PETS software, and give their robot emotions and behaviors.  Over the years there have been several versions of PETS.  Ranging from a storytelling robot to a robot which mimics children's motions to a robot which can be used as a motivational tool for children with physical disabilities.  The first prototype was created in the summer of 1998 and we have been working on new versions ever since.

P.E.T.S. 1

P.E.T.S. 2


P.E.T.S. 1

P.E.T.S. 2

P.E.T.S. 3


Design Process

We began designing robots by exploring traditional robots in our lab.  After playing with the robots we wrote down what we liked about them.  The robots could "move", "use their senses like a bat", and "act like an animal".  We also wrote down the things we didn't like about them; "they don't look like animals", "you can see their brains", and "it's hard to tell them what to do."  Next we built low-tech "robots" out of feathers, socks, clay and more.  These prototypes were the sketches for the interactive robots which we built next.

PETS began as a body and head that could move left, right, forward and back.  It reacted to light and could speak, wave and act out a set of scripted behaviors.  Then we brought in kids.  The first version of PETS and other robots reminded the children of animals (they could move, use their senses like a bat, act like an animal).  After observing the robots we wrote down all the things we liked about the robots and all the things we thought that we could work on (they did not “look like animals”, their “brains” were visible, it was “hard to tell them what to do”).

The next version of PETS which we call PETS 1 was more than just a head and body. PETS 1 could react to sound, touch and movement and could tell stories with emotion but it was connected to a computer by wires.  PETS 2 was wireless.  It was not as modular but it was more padded and squeezable than the first PETS.  PETS 3 was created by Anthrotronix (a University of Maryland start-up company).  This prototype was created as a motivational tool to encourage children with physical disabilities to complete their physical therapy exersizes.  In order to make the robot move, children wore wireless sensors on their arms and ankles.  The robot mimics the children's movements.  This robot is smaller than the past prototypes and is wireless.  Anthrotronix is developing PETS 3 for a commercial product.  Today we are working on PETS 4 to explore how children change roles when they tell stories (children as storytellers, children as story listeners, etc.).  We will support these role changes by enabling children to interact with a robot who can play different characters.

At the beginning of August, 1998 our design team split into three groups to create PETS 1: the skeleton group, the skins and sensors group and the software group. Each team consisted of two adults and two children.  The different teams met regularly since the work of one group often effected the work of the other groups.

Robot Skeleton

The skeleton group built a modular skeleton so children could put different animal parts together to create any kind of animal. Particular attention was paid to making the skeleton  strong enough to support the skins and sensors.

The skins group concentrated on making the robot components look like animal parts. The group began by sketching different animals. Then they sewed "skins" based on our sketches. These parts included: a fish tail, dog paws, a cow head, a bear body, duck feet, and a bird tail.

Skins Team

Skins Team

The software group developed the My PETS program that children can use to tell stories using PETS.  This group began by using other software and deciding what they liked and didn’t like about the programs they tried.  Then they talked about what emotions they would like to express through PETS.  The software group chose seven feelings and made a list of the actions that would clearly express each feeling. Then the software group did a usability test to see if people were able to tell what feelings were being acting out. Finally, they designed the user interface and the children drew the icons.

Usability Testing Outline

Usability Testing Outline


Software Design Sketches

Children's Sketches for Software Design  




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