At Brown, an innovative course explores “responsible robotics”


These introductory security sessions were essential for Abby Perelman, a longtime dancer who focused on cognitive neuroscience and data literacy, graduating in May.

Outside of Choreorobotics, Perelman spent part of the spring semester conducting research on creating a wearable device that could track symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s disease, allowing doctors to provide them with better care. . Together, the course and its research have provided plenty of food for thought on how to create technology that has a positive impact – and how to ensure that this technology is not used for harmful purposes.

Perelman had never programmed a robot before, but with Rosen’s help, she felt free to try and fail.

“It’s a space where people can explore and try and eventually fail and watch your robot fall and laugh,” Perelman said. “I’ve never taken a course like this before where we all come together from our very different perspectives and disciplines and learn and try together.”

Skybetter admitted the course was as much a learning opportunity for instructors as it was for students. The course was his first attempt to translate his research initiative, the Conference for Research on Choreographic Interfaces, into an applied learning experience involving robots. But with CRCI set to expand its reach as a growing initiative within the Brown Arts Institute, he believes this is the first of many. Skybetter is already working with Nora Ayanian and Stefanie Tellex, two faculty members in the Department of Computer Science, on a 2023 or 2024 course that focuses on drone swarms – their development, history in military operations and the arts of scene, and their potential to do harm and good.

Navaiya Williams, who just finished her freshman year at Brown and is focusing on both computer science and acting, could enroll next year. Williams, who grew up playing and attended robotics classes in high school, didn’t know what to expect when she set foot in Choreorobotics 0101 in January — but, she said, the class was a pleasant surprise.

“When I tell people that I focus twice on IT and acting, they say, ‘What are you going to do with that? ‘” Williams said. “And to be honest, I didn’t know what to tell them – acting and CS always seemed so different and unrelated. But this course showed me ways I didn’t know existed before, where I can use the two subjects in a really creative and meaningful way. It makes me think about new career possibilities related to cybersecurity and virtual reality.”

Williams had to listen between the lines when Skybetter one day in March led the students through a movement exercise inside the Ashamu Dance Studio in Brown. Lying with the students on the floor, he asked them to think about their physical movements before actually moving. Consider, he directed, the muscular apparatus necessary to raise a hand and point a finger – pectoral tension, metacarpal engagement. Be mindful, he says, of the difference between pre-perception of movement and sensing the movement itself.

“Take this weird time, in this weird studio, in this weird classroom, on this weird plastic floor, to try some weird moves,” Skybetter said. “Try to make choices you’ve never made before.”


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