A robot, which demonstrates two different emotional states. The challenge was to build an object which could convey different emotions without the use of sound, lights, or facial expressions.

Project Brief

The first requirement of this project was to research emotion and personality in inanimate forms. The second part of the project was to develop two chosen emotions to implement into a robot.


Project Information

Class: Objects & Space


Instructors: Nicholas Pajerski & Graham Plumb


Duration: Three and a half weeks


Key Skills: Physical prototyping, programming, electrical engineering, storytelling, and sketching


Materials: Arduino, metal straws, servo motors, motion sensor, and foam core


Project Role: Individual project


  • A robot, which can sense a change in its environment.

  • Produce mechanical movement that changes the form of an expressive object.

  • Express two contrasting emotions.


The focus for this project was between the object and the user. The constraints our class worked under included: no use of sound, lights, and faces on the robot. The objective for Project 1 was to convey an emotion through a mechanical object that would in turn elicit an emotional response from the user. This project was referred to as “Emotional Robots.” The project begged the question, “How do we provoke an emotion through a physical interaction?


For my project, I found inspiration in animals and the vehicles in James Bond films from the 1970’s and 80’s. I remember watching a video of a swan; an animal one typically thinks of as being elegant and serene. However, when it was provoked in the video, it became very aggressive, looking to attack. The automobiles in the older James Bond films conveyed a similar emotion. At first glance, they were stylish, elegant, and classy. When put into the a precarious situation, with a quick flip of a switch, James Bond, would activate massive missile launchers from the headlights, or jagged rotating tire shredding devices from its wheels.


The two emotions I chose were serenity and aggression.


Click here for my process book

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Initial sketch

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Diagraming the build

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Late night build in the kitchen

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Close up view of the doors

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Initial sketch models

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Setting up the servo

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Proximity sensor

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Servo housing

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Key Takeaways

Throughout this project, I found my ideas consistently being pushed and challenged in a way that incited more abstract thinking by my teachers. I remember having grandiose ideas but also needed to be reminded by Nic Pajerski that we’re also working with time constraints. I remember when we first received this project wondering, “How in the world will I be able to build a robot on my own?” I’ve never built a robot before. Nic looked at one of my initial prototypes and asked how I could take some of the elements of what I wanted to show with the swan without actually making a robot that looked like a swan.

As a precursor to the actual building and prototyping of the robot, we were asked to search for movements that evoked an emotion. In my search, I came up with dancers and animals. While animals do have faces, my exploration was in their movement. I looked at a startled bear cub, a chicken showing trust, an excited parakeet bouncing up and down, and a swan showing anger.


The conclusion of this project helped me understand that a strong argument can be made that we as humans want to be fooled by objects that move “on their own”. Our cognition is wired in a way that wants to recognize patterns and find familiarity. In this case, we associate certain types of movement with behavior or emotion. On the day of the critique, we saw machines that moved to convey emotions including humor, empathy, acceptance, and shyness. I found myself finding these robots to be funny, charming, mysterious, and even creepy.

The exploration into the interaction between humans and machines has barely been tapped and there is much more to discover.

John Sun

User Experience Designer