Those “Little” Moments
When you work really, really hard on something—put in the long hours and late nights, hammering your brain so hard you can feel your frontal lobe melting and want to smash your laptop to smithereens because the computer is at fault, right?—you will have a moment. The moment when you question if it’s all worth it.
Needybot and I had a love-hate relationship. Throughout building Needybot, things between us just clicked…sometimes. I’d write some clever code, refactor an algorithm or two, and all of a sudden Needy’s path-planning and recognition capabilities were so good!
Other days…not so much. Someone would interact with Needy in an unexpected manner, a new obstacle would appear or a new unexpected situation would emerge out of the abyss that is autonomous robot design. All of a sudden, I’d find myself facing a brand new set of problems that needed solving.
These were my moments of hate with Needybot. The ones where giving up didn’t seem so bad because that was the easiest thing to do.
Yesterday, Keith Hamilton and I presented to a group of 30 or so students visiting from a grade school in Portland. We spent 20 minutes jabbering about robots of all sorts, and we went into detail about social robotics and Needybot. Before we knew it, we were nerding out in front of a bunch of kids.
We were thoroughly impressed by these students. The kids—fourth graders, mind you—were genuinely interested. They sat patiently, listening to every word, and asked some profound questions. At one point, I found myself explaining how facial recognition and deep neural networks work to a fourth grader…and he understood some of it!
Another student suggested that instead of building such an advanced navigation system into the robot we could’ve taken down the walls and rebuilt the office. I think we’re sending this kid a job offer.
The best part happened when Needybot was bombarded in a way we never could’ve prepared it for. More than 30 kids jumped out of their seats, surrounded Needybot, and squealed their hearts out as it started following all of them around the building.
This was a moment of validation. The algorithms and code for Needybot’s following behavior that we wrote, tested, and modified time and time again were put to use in a way we never expected. And it all worked beautifully?
Once I got over the fact that it was actually working, and working well, I realized something else. “Holy shit! These kids love it!” Of course I said this to myself because I would never curse in front of kids.
These moments are everything. They trump all the hard work and brain-melting nights that make you contemplate murdering a laptop.
This moment made it worth it.