Thursday, February 5, 2015

Simulating Swarm Behavior with Scratch

My young audience
Today I was giving a lecture to kids at age 8 to 12 at our University. The lecture was part of an initiative called “Kinderuni” (Children’s University) which aims at increasing awareness of our academic business already at young age.
In my lecture I approached the general topic of computer software by the example of the programming language Scratch. Scratch is a graphical programming language designed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT media lab. The language aims to be simple, colorful and fun in order to enable and motivate children at a young age to create programs with their own ideas.
I explained how Scratch works and together the kids and I coded a simple computer game in 25 minutes, which was definitely a challenge to do this in this short time. Another challenge was to create the connection between making a simple game with scratch and doing research at a university. However, this might be easier than you think. While Scratch is in general a programming language for kids, it can be actually useful to explore and demonstrate multi-agent behavior with comparably little effort. Especially with the introduction of cloned objects in Scratch 2.0, the implementation of swarm behavior with a variable number of interacting agents became easy.
Some projects from swarm behavior studio

The Scratch Studio Swarm Behavior gathers online simulations and games related to swarm behavior, multi-agent systems, clone interactions, self-organizing systems, and artificial life. The simulations show how Scratch can be used to demonstrate swarm behavior and how such a simulation can be implemented. Scratch is of course of low value regarding functionalty and performance - so you might have to drop the idea of having kindergarten kids coding the simulations for your next journal paper ;-).

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