May the 4th Be With You: Art, AI & Robotics

Nettrice Gaskins
4 min readMay 4, 2024
Oliver’s “green” face-sensing AI cardboard R2D2

Constructionism is a process in which people create their own unique ways of knowing with prototypes, devices, and tools that others can use and critique. Last summer we ran an Art, AI & Robotics course at Lesley University. In class we explored ‘constructionist-inspired’, techno-vernacular creativity methods such as such as design (concept) mapping and modular prototyping can help students think creatively and solve problems. Modular prototyping includes separating and combining components. Students can use digital prototyping tools such as BBC micro:bits to add electronic components to their projects and create machines that act like R2D2, the astromech droid from the Star Wars film series.

Oliver’s capstone project presentation

As part of the robot design process, students had to apply what they learned about 3D design (ex. sculpture), physical computing using micro:bits, and face-sensing AI using Scratch programming language. The latter enabled them to control their robots using face and body gestures. For each project, students received a design brief with project requirements and design constraints. The activities culminated in a capstone project.

Part of the students’ final capstone design brief

One of our students was obsessed (in a good way) with Star Wars and, after prototyping their version of the Death Star, decided to go bigger and designed a “green” version of R2D2. As part of his research, the student referenced the scene with R2D2 on Dagobah, a hot and humid planet, mostly covered in swamps and bogs, interspersed with countless shallow lakes and lagoons and multiple living caves. The student also used Midjourney to generate concepts for the aesthetic.

From Oliver’s capstone presentation

The student referred to their version of R2D2 as a “moving sculpture”:

My robot moves around using 2 wheels, and 4 ping pong balls to balance. Using Scratch, I coded it to make noises. It has two audio modes. The first mode is automatic, in which the robot will make noises by itself at random intervals.

Sometime during the course I found out that Ahmed Best was going to be at a convening I was also participating in. Ahmed Best is known for providing the voice and motion capture for the character Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars. Ahmed also collaborated with director George Lucas in three films and seven episodes of the cartoon show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Most recently, he starred as Jedi Master Kelleran Beq in the third season of The Mandalorian. I promised the student that I would show their R2D2 to Ahmed when we met… and here’s how that went:

Ahmed gave a positive review of Oliver’s R2D2

I posted this article/story in honor of Star Wars Day, which is observed annually on May 4th, in part because of the famous Jedi phrase “May the force be with you.” Today, devoted fans of the American epic space saga greet each other with “May the fourth be with you,” a playful twist on the classic movie line “May the Force be with you.” Also, in honor of the day I created this version of Ahmed Best as Kelleran Beq:

Me + Ahmed/Kelleran Beq + Midjourney + Photoshop

The pervasiveness of AI/ML in the everyday lives of young people — impacting how they connect with friends, listen to music, play games, or attend school — coupled with the accessibility of large language learning model applications, discussions about algorithmic justice, and growing efforts to incorporate computing into K-12 education increase the urgency of AI/ML education. — Morales-Navarro & Kafai et al. 2023

The use of generative AI as a teaching, design, and concept art tool should be emphasized here. Students learned about bias in AI by watching Coded Bias, a film about the fallout of MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini’s discovery of racial bias in facial recognition algorithms. Next, they learned how to use face-sensing AI in Scratch to control their machines or robots (i.e., drawbots). Students used Midjourney to generate concepts for their capstone projects… and of course one of their teachers (me) used Midjourney to give Ahmed Best his flowers in a portrait that captures the essence of his role/character on The Mandalorian.

May the 4th be with you, indeed!



Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.