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How Do You Name a Robot?

A name. An identifier. How someone gets our attention. In its full version, at least in my case, it’s how I know my mother is upset with me. It’s personal, it’s meaningful and it’s a part of who we are. Read on to find out what’s behind the names of the Dash robots at Science World’s Senses and Sensors workshop.

Why bother naming a robot?

Last year, I was teaching a grade 4/5 class. During our first robotics lesson, the students built their LEGO® WeDo robots. We were all so excited to launch into this new learning. Students turned on their iPads and looked for the robots to connect. But then chaos broke loose! All of the robots had the same generic name, and students connected to the first robot on their list, which wasn’t necessarily theirs. This led to robots seemingly being driven on their own, or students believing their code wasn’t working because their robot wasn’t moving. After some confusion, frustration, then giggles, we solved the problem with the uncreative naming of the robots: WeDo 1 through 12.

When I arrived at Science World this summer to start my job as the Tech-Up Learning Specialist, I met the fleet of Dash robots used in the Senses and Sensors workshop for grade 3 and 4 students. Each had a name, and when I inquired I found a simple yet brilliant teachable moment: the Dash robots were named after a selection of amazing people in computer science and one amazing Canadian robot.

Naming the robots this way has significant pedagogical value. By picking a diverse representation of people (genders, abilities, race, etc.,), we help to show our students that anyone can be a programmer!

Maya Angelou famously said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” When I go back to the classroom, I will do away with the robots’ numbered identifiers and give them meaningful names that will help inspire my students. Until then, I present to you Science World’s Dash robots. Introducing: Science World’s Dash Robots

Matz: Yukihiro Matsumoto, better known as “Matz,” is a Japanese computer scientist and software programmer. He is the chief designer of the Ruby programming language and the author of its reference implementation, Matz’s Ruby Interpreter. He is widely known throughout the industry for his positive demeanour, which is so well received that it initiated a motto throughout the entire Ruby community: “Matz is nice and so we are nice” (MINASWAN).

Ada: Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, was an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on the Analytical Engine. She is sometimes regarded as the first person to recognize the full potential of a “computing machine” and as the first computer programmer.

Dorothy: Dorothy Johnson Vaughan was an African American mathematician who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and NASA. In 1949, she became acting supervisor of West Area Computers and the first African American woman to supervise staff at the centre.

Alan: Alan Mathison Turing was an English computer scientist, mathematician, logician and cryptanalyst, known best for his role in developing the Turing machine. Turing is considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

Grace: Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was an American computer scientist known for being one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. She is a pioneer of computer programming, invented one of the first compiler-related tools and popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages.

Steve: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded the Apple computer company in 1976. The Apple I was one of the first personal computers.

Suzanne: Suzanne Gildert is the founder and CEO of Sanctuary AI. She is a Vancouver-based physicist and lover of all things robotic.

Dextre: Part of Canada’s contribution to the International Space Station, Dextre is a versatile robot that maintains the International Space Station. It is the most sophisticated space robot ever built.

Have more robots you’d like to name? Try these inspirational people!

Lynn: Lynn Ann Conway is an American computer scientist, electrical engineer, inventor and transgender activist.

Johanna: Johanna Lucht is the first deaf engineer who played an active role in a NASA control centre during a crewed research flight.

Come meet our robots at our Senses and Sensors workshop for students in grades 4 and 5 at Science World at TELUS World of Science. It’s free until March 31, 2019 as part of Tech-Up, Science World's initiative to enhance existing programs to include coding and computational thinking!