Homesick Aliens

The Homesick Aliens are an example of engaging young people with physical computing through story telling. The Aliens are unwell and you have to code them better. Each alien has three lights confirming their level of happiness. There are three ways to make them happy, once you've got all three, they start to sing. You have to offer them the correct food; it might be Dolphin, Ice Cream or Trash. These are represented by RFID cards that you offer to the alien. You have to change the colour of the coloured orb they have with them, this can only be done in the code. It's actually a ping pong ball with an RGB LED underneath it. The RFID cards have RGB colour clues on them, you have to translate this into hexadecimal and programme the orb. You have to hold their hand, or more correctly, squeeze the force sensor not too tight and not too soft but just right.

Each alien has a different preference to each of the aspects. The aliens are built with Ugly Dolls™. The Homesick Aliens can be reset to engage children at any level. For example, for the very young they can be set to sing simply when they offer the correct food. Because they connect through an Arduino Lilypad, they can be completely recoded and used creatively. They were first developed in 2011 for a 20 minute demonstration to girls interested in science and engineering. They have gone on to become popular and are a regular feature at Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire.

The Homesick Aliens are a fantastic way of demonstrating to young children that they can gain control of quite complicated systems with computer code. They are also an excellent way of engaging in imaginative conversations of possible creative uses of technology.