FRIENDS OF THE TURTLE
David D. Thornburg, Associate Editor
Travels With TOPO
The San Diego CUE (Computer Using Educators) conference was one speaking engagement I looked forward to with eager anticipation. My talk was on the use of robots in the classroom, and Androbot's TOPO was my star attraction. (If you don't know about TOPO, see the "Friends of the Turtle" and "Computers and Society" columns in the May 1983 issue of COMPUTE!.) Since I like to travel light, I had arranged for TOPO to be sent ahead of me to the hotel.
A few hours before my scheduled departure, I found that TOPO was not going to be delivered as scheduled and that it had to travel on the plane with me.
My frantic call to the airline went something like this:
"PSA reservations. May I help you?"
"Yes, I need another round-trip ticket between San Jose and San Diego."
"Of course, and the passenger's last name, please?"
"Fine, his first name please?"
I paused. What was his first name?
"Thank you. Is Peter a child?"
"Uh, Peter is under six."
"Excellent! He can travel for half fare."
"Good. Oh, by the way, there is something I think you should know."
"Uh, Peter isn't human."
This time it was the agent who paused.
"Is it a dog?"
"No, it's a robot."
"A robot! How exciting! I'll make sure the airport personnel know to expect him."
And thus began an adventure that will be commonplace in a few years — taking the domestic robot on a trip.
We arrived at the airport with time to spare, picked up TOPO's ticket, and went through X-ray without a hitch. The response of other passengers was quite varied. One woman looked at TOPO, clasped her hands, and said, "I think I'm in love!" A four-year-old moppet named Alison approached TOPO with hesitation, but by the end of the trip she and TOPO were great friends.
The stewardess asked what TOPO would like to drink.
"WD-40 on the rocks," I replied.
Although TOPO was the subject of much attention, one can envision such scenes becoming commonplace in the not too distant future. And as domestic robots become more common, software will be developed to make them more useful. Today, TOPO is a tremendously valuable tool for education. By controlling TOPO through Logo's turtle graphics commands, children become highly motivated to learn programming. In the future we can expect ever more sophisticated programs to be developed around practical applications.
Whether TOPO or its offspring vacuum carpets, mow the lawn, watch the kids, or help carry groceries, it is clear to me that domestic robots will soon become as common as personal computers. As a result, we can expect the airlines to offer special seating (robot class?) in which our mechanical companions can travel together, perhaps getting recharged during their travel time. When this happens, we will know that the age of robotics has arrived.
Notes From All Over
The use of Logo with children has been the subject of university research since the language was developed. Dennis Harper at the University of California at Santa Barbara has a research project with a new twist. He is embarking on a special project in Papua, New Guinea, to teach PILOT and Logo to teachers. With the assistance of the government of New Guinea and the use of equipment supplied by Atari, Dennis will be studying the use of Atari PILOT and Logo by teachers who have, in many cases, only elementary educations themselves. The fact that some of these teachers will not have seen a television before should make their response to turtle graphics quite interesting.
Mr. Harper has quite a few objectives to accomplish during this project. He will be demonstrating existing computer-aided instructional materials, and will then let the teachers learn both Logo and PILOT. He hopes to see what effect the computer will have on positive attitudes toward technology, increased literacy, teacher training, effectiveness in teaching, the dropout rate, the overproduction of humanities graduates, indigenous research and development efforts, and discrimination in primary schools.
In his research proposal Mr. Harper states:
Whether or not logical thinking among the students will increase by learning programming will be part of these observations. Although such gains are assumed almost as a cultural truism, there is a paucity of research either supporting or not justifying that hypothesis. The lack of empirical testing of cognitive gains following computer training is understandable and results from the fact that much research dealing with Logo has been constrained until recently by expensive hardware and small, non-equivalent controls.
I expect that Dennis will have some interesting observations to share with us, and look forward to hearing reports from the field.
Chuck E. Cheese Learns Logo
I dropped into my local Pizza Time Theater last night and was quite pleasantly surprised to see a half-dozen Apple computers being used to teach Logo to members of the Pizza Time Theater computer club. This step-up from the arcade games comes as a pleasant rejoinder to those who claim that such places have no redeeming social value. I haven't found out if this is a purely local phenomenon, but I endorse the idea of locating computer clubs in pizza parlors and arcades and would like to hear from those of you who have seen or used such facilities in your area.
A Final Note
Some of you may have guessed that I am a technology junkie. Well, you are right. I have composed this entire column on a word processor that sits on my lap as I rest under a tree in the middle of a park. I have been using the Radio Shack Model 100 computer, and it has been working beautifully. I may write a review on it for the next issue. Meanwhile, keep those cards and letters coming.
Send me your turtle graphics discoveries so we can share them with other Friends of the Turtle!