Robotics The Tech
Classroom Activities

Can a robot tie your shoes?


Robots are machines that do specific tasks. Movies are full of robots that can do everything that humans can do and more. However, in reality, there are limits to what robots can do. This activity is designed to help analyze a simple, everyday task from the point of view of a robot. Gloves, blindfolds and pliers are used to limit sensory information, and tongue depressors limit the number of moving joints.

Tying a shoe, an every-day task that seems easy enough for us, is difficult, if not impossible, for a mechanical robot. Robots have limited movement, only a few sensors, and are controlled by computers which must be programmed with instructions for each step required. It is difficult for two people to work together to tie a shoe. Likewise two robots working together is very difficult to coordinate and only recently has been achieved. (A line of robots working sequentially in an assembly plant is different than two robots working together on the same task.)

It is helpful for participants to discuss their experience after each variation.

Can a robot tie your shoes?

Materials Needed

  • shoes that tie
  • tongue depressor
  • masking tape
  • heavy gloves
  • 2 pairs of pliers
  • blind folds

What To Do: Try tying your shoes blindfolded. Not too hard! Now, repeat the activity but with heavy gloves on your hands. Then, tape tongue depressors onto your thumbs and forefingers and try again.

And if those activities weren't difficult enough, tie your shoes with pliers. First, use pliers in both hands; then with only one hand; finally with two people -- each with one pair of pliers. For fun, these activities can be set up as a race between two people

Related exhibit: Tie Your Shoes


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