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Community of Learners: Robots and Art Come Together at the Hood

Hood Quarterly, winter 2007

What do robots and art have in common? More than you might expect, and the significant connections between them inspired an exciting collaboration last summer among the Computer Science Department at Dartmouth, regional young people, and the Hood Museum of Art.

Each summer the Office of the Provost and the Department of Computer Science co-sponsor the Summer Robotics Program for Upper Valley Youth. Taught by visiting scholar Suzanne Thompson, Dartmouth students, and faculty and staff from the College, these camps are designed to introduce participants through hands-on learning to the study and application of robotics.

This past summer in the Robotics “Girls Only” Camp I, participants applied engineering and computer science concepts to art and archaeology. Mimicking the use of robots in actual excavations, students had to build a Lego-based robot and then program it to enter a small-scale reconstruction of King Tutankhamen’s tomb and navigate through its chambers. Along the way they also had to decode a message written in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The fact that many works of ancient art arrive in museums as the result of archaeological excavations provided a natural link to the Hood’s collections. Guided by Curator of Education Lesley Wellman, students explored ancient Assyrian and Costa Rican objects and learned to decode visual symbols—including cuneiform—that artists had used to record and communicate information about each culture.

Professor Thompson was pleased with the result, commenting, “This experience afforded the students an opportunity to understand connections to robotics outside the laboratory, hopefully inspiring future possibilities.” Hood staff members look forward to continuing this interdisciplinary collaboration in future years.

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