The World's Cutest Surveillance Robot Videographer

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Designed at MIT's Media Lab, Boxie is an adorable cardboard robot that films you with its eyes. Alexander Reben, of the Responsive Environments group, explains that Boxie's lack of complexity is its best asset. The little bot's helplessness wins humans over, and they in turn help it shoot a documentary film. This video from MIT's LabCast series by Paula Aguilera shows Boxie in action.

Boxie is unusual for a robot, in that it is designed to influence and use humans, rather than the other way around. Its creators, Joe Paradiso and Alexander Reben, describe the goals of the project on the Responsive Environments group's site:

How do we leverage people to make systems more intelligent, efficient, and successful? Is it worthwhile to involve people heavily in the goals of a system? How does a system most effectively coax stories out of people? To investigate these questions, a robot was built that facilitated interaction and documentary gathering within an ubiquitous media framework. We then let the robot roam freely, with the goal of capturing stories about its environment. This was done by leveraging human mobility and intelligence, as the robot relied upon people to move long distances and achieve its goals. The end products were a study of how people related to a robot asking for assistance and interaction in various ways, and a set of movies showing the robot navigating the resulting "thread" of a narrative.

The project is also fascinating from a documentary perspective. Here the agency of the filmmaker is redistributed between the autonomous robot and the subjects of its film. It's interesting to imagine what kind of film you could make by unleashing 100 Boxies in a city. That is, assuming you could recover them at some point -- Boxie's cuteness and portability might actually be a liability if people are inspired to kidnap it.

For more videos from LabCast, visit http://labcast.media.mit.edu/.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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