Cats are the stars of the internet. The Japanese lucky cat “maneki-neko” is usually more at home offline – in Asian restaurants or hotel lobbies. As a lucky charm, the waving cat has become a worldwide cult figure. But since 2016 Maneki-neko has been spreading more than happiness and prosperity: in close cooperation with the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum in Paderborn, we have turned the lucky cat into an interactive exhibition object that shows students the basic concepts of programming.
How do you playfully teach the fundamentals of programming without screens or displays, but in the form of a large, highly visible installation? Such was the task for the redesign of the permanent exhibition at the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum. Archimedes accepted the challenge and designed and produced an exhibit with 49 lucky cats. By using physical coding blocks, visitors can create chains of commands that make the cats wave and turn. Sensors check the programming instructions for correct syntax – if the chain of command is correct, the cats execute the desired program and begin to dance. Visitors can immediately hear, feel and of course see the results of their work. Sophisticated choreographies provide visitors with immediate feedback on the impact of their programming instructions, giving them a direct understanding of how programming works.
Students love the lucky cat. For them, the item is an ideal tour guide into the digital world. This way a pop cultural symbol becomes a pedagogically valuable object. Its gender neutral design is especially helping girls overcoming their fear of the unknown and taking their first steps into programming. Due to the great success, the IT cats are now on display at TECHNOSEUM Mannheim. Curator Anke Keller says about the exhibit: “Despite short deployment time, the cats are popular with young and old alike. It is great that they explain the basic principles of programming in a simple and intuitive way. It is certainly one of the interactive highlights of the exhibition.”