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Robotics from a Musician’s Perspective

By Allison Lambacher, Marketing Coordinator, BirdBrain Technologies

Scenario 1: The musician picks up her instrument. She practices Mozart. “That phrase was not as musical as I wanted,” she thinks. “If I play softer and add a crescendo, it will sound better.”

Scenario 2: The programmer sits down at her computer. She practices building a robot. “This robot is not doing what I programmed it to do,” she thinks. “If I change the input value, it will do what I want.”

What’s different about these two scenarios? At the surface, it’s obvious. One is playing Mozart and the other is building a robot. But what makes them similar?

I am a classical musician to the core. I studied with the co-principal flutist of the Pittsburgh Symphony. I listen to classical music for fun. Robotics was the farthest thing from my interests.

But through a series of serendipitous events, I now work for an educational robotics company. How did that happen? I remember starting in the educational technology industry thinking that I was an imposter. I was not an engineer or an educator, so how could my passion for music infiltrate my work?

Soon my preconceived notions of robotics were shattered. I learned that the way media portrays robotics is not entirely accurate. I viewed robotics as something rigid. Stale. For boys. Not creative.

But after seeing past the lens of what cartoons told me about robots, I was able to see that music and robotics are not that different.

Think back to the first two scenarios. What makes them similar?

  • Problem Solving: Both students identified that something was wrong and found a solution to make it better.
  • Creative Thinking: They were able to search within what they knew and creatively choose how to be better at their task.
  • Bilingualism: By knowing 2 different languages, they were able to take something foreign and turn it into something tangible for others to enjoy.
  • Empowerment: Solving the problem gave them confidence to continue learning.

These students illustrated complex life skills that will only grow with further practice of their craft.

The Hummingbird Robotics Kit is the tool that solidified for me the ability for artistic expression to be represented in classroom robotics. This kit is comprised of the guts of the robots (lights, sensors, & motors) that the students combine with reusable craft materials to then design, build, and program a robot.

Computer science in education is rapidly changing into an outlet for students to collaborate, problem solve, and think creatively. The Hummingbird doesn’t act as a means to an end. While the end result may be a really cool robot, the true learning experience comes from the stories that led to that point.

Both of these fields teach transferable skills for any profession. I may not be playing on a symphony stage, but I certainly know how to see a problem in the workplace, pause to evaluate it, and move forward. Likewise, a student may not be working on the backend at Google, but they will be able to work alongside a team to identify the bottleneck and create a quality output.

Like music, robotics begets creativity.

So while your student may think they are just playing the flute or building a robot, watch out. Because they are learning far more than what’s on the surface.

About the Author:

Allison Lambacher: coordinates the marketing efforts for BirdBrain Technologies. With a music performance degree and an MBA, Allison has been involved in education with various organizations, from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to the a music academy in South Africa. Allison is very enthusiastic about education and is invigorated by a student realizing their potential through BirdBrain’s products.


BirdBrain Technologies: serves as a catalyst for transformative, physical computing-based learning experiences for all students. Founded at Carnegie Mellon University in 2010, BirdBrain was created to promote gender equality and diversity in engineering and robotics. Their products, the Finch Robot and Hummingbird Robotics Kit, empower students to take ownership of their technical and creative skill-sets and engage in flexible problem-solving activities.