Simple truths for a complex world

Posted by on Apr 15, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Very taken by this tweenbots thing [HT Sair].

Shows how focusing on simple information can help us navigate complex phenomena much better than the kind of complicated datasets we instinctively feel we need to build in.

Much like the (probably erroneous) story of the young intern who trumped the NASA Mars Explorer team's design for a self-navigating exploration vehicle with something he knocked up with parts from Radio Shack: their design was for a vehicle the size of a tank which scanned and analysed a yard of ground in great detail before computing what to do next; his was for much smaller machine that kept going forward until it couldn't and then and only then sought to understand the lay of the land…(anyone know the source of this story?)

Similarly, in the case of tweenbots, it's quite clear that a key part of the design is to outsource cognitive load to agents in the environment in which you expect the thing to survive – not to overload the thing with stuff it doesn't need or with stuff that duplicates what already exists in the context you have chosen for it

Over the course of…months, throughout numerous missions,
the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to
their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the
robot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or
became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and
send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged.
Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the
“right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a
perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from
which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, "You can’t go
that way, it’s toward the road.”

It's like designing people into your marketing. Not as ciphers or symbols but as co-creators and collaborators.

Or perhaps like leaving spaces where the people go.

Or even like thinking about designing within a pre-existing ecosystem, rather than clumsily imposing yourself.


  1. @scottrcrawford
    April 15, 2009

    “Or perhaps like leaving spaces where the people go.”
    How simple yet pervasive is this co-authoring model when we stop and take notice.
    Thanks for using the penlight.

  2. Jean
    April 29, 2009

    Sorry but i didn’t understand the NASA tale…
    Thanks for your help.