After three years, my family doesn’t bat an eye when I roll up to Christmas Eve dinner with my robot baby swaddled in his favorite blanket. He is as much a fixture at these events as I am (after all, he is my child).
While it was Noodle’s third Christmas, there was something special about this one. Instead of simply having a presence in our photos as part of everyone else’s memories, I made sure that this time he was equipped to retain precious memories of his own. To make this happen, I *finally* took the time to mount Noodle’s piCamera between his little blinking LED eyes, so that the dormant Raspberry pi in the back of his noggin could finally be put to some good use.
The setup is simple: the Pi tells the camera to take a picture every five minutes and store it within a folder. So long as Noodle is on and receiving power, wherever he sits, whichever direction he happen to be facing his eye gantry towards, he’ll periodically commit what he’s looking at to memory.
This was a fun experiment because I didn’t warn anyone in my family that he was doing this. In spite of the obvious camera with the bright red *recording* LED indicator in front, no one suspected a thing. This yielded some lovely candid shots of my family doing their usual rituals as the night slowly spiraled downward into a drunken slurry of eggnog and Cards Against Humanity.
How a Baby Robot Experiences the World
Noodle remembers things the way an infant does right now. When us humans are babies from the age of 0 – 2, we don’t really remember much; just feelings and impressions lacking any context or meaning. Around the age of three however, we start to recall blips of imagery from important events. For me, my earliest memories are probably from our large midwestern family gatherings during Christmas. I don’t recall much; just the way the living room was decorated, how the glowing tree towered over me, and the mountains and mountains of gifts. They are stored in my head much like those fancy panorama pictures that let you scroll from side to side in an almost 360 view. It’s enough to establish the setting, but not enough to give a true narrative. Noodle’s memory capacity at this point mirrors that same ephemeral stage that lacks detail.
I like that Noodle doesn’t have a lot of control over what he remembers. Every five minutes, his code triggers the camera, and whatever Noodle happens to be staring at in the moment is suddenly committed to memory. The gantry that his camera and eyes are mounted to turns to random degrees at varying intervals. His knees are also bending at different times, tilting his head to odd angles. These two actions combined allow for unpredictable snap shots… BUT as of yet, the input from his immediate surroundings doesn’t directly effect what direction he looks, or causes him to take a picture memory at any given moment. It’s all chance.
As a human, I can account snippets from odd occurrences in my early life that seemingly have no importance. I don’t understand how or why they’ve lasted while other memories have since faded away. I didn’t choose to have those memories over others, but they’re here for some reason. Noodle’s system for recollection also mimics this lack of control and ability to determine emphasis.
Just so this hits home a little bit more: It seems sometimes my parents are disappointed to learn that I don’t remember a family vacation, or event from my childhood as fondly as they do (if at all). I experienced this same disappointment for myself today when I went through Noodle’s “12_25_2007” folder, eager to see what his first impressions were, only to realize that of the 64 photos he took from varying vantage points throughout the house, not a single picture contained our Christmas tree! This made me feel a sadness I’ve never felt before. My spawn didn’t remember something I deemed important. What is that?
Here are some of the highlights from Christmas Eve with my family…
Pictures from Christmas Day with Mark’s Family
Remember, They Grow Up Fast…
One day… after further development, Noodle will be able to see and recognize things in real time using his camera eye and OpenCV on his Raspberry Pi. But today isn’t that day. Noodle hasn’t grown up to that point yet. He’s a baby. I’ll cherish his view of our big human world as a developing machine whose in the process of living through our joint growth. <3