Topobo: A 3-D Constructive Assembly System with Kinetic Memory

Raffle, H. "Topobo: A 3-D Constructive Assembly System with Kinetic Memory"


We introduce Topobo, a 3-D constructive assembly system embedded with kinetic memory, the ability to record and playback physical motion. Unique among modeling systems is Topobo's coincident physical input and output behaviors. By snapping together a combination of Passive (static) and Active (motorized) components, people can quickly assemble dynamic biomorphic forms like animals and skeletons, animate those forms by pushing, pulling, and twisting them, and observe the system repeatedly play back those motions. For example, a dog can be constructed and then taught to gesture and walk by twisting its body and legs. The dog will then repeat those movements and walk repeatedly.

Our evaluation of Topobo in classrooms with children ages 5-13 suggests that children develop affective relationships with Topobo creations and that their experimentation with Topobo allows them to learn about movement and animal locomotion through comparisons of their creations to their own bodies. Eighth grade science students' abilities to quickly develop various types of walking robots suggests that a tangible interface can support understanding how balance, leverage and gravity affect moving structures because the interface itself responds to the forces of nature that constrain such systems.

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