Robot Art Lessons (SXSW)


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Robot-inspired art installations are exploring new frontiers: and in the process, influencing innovations in communications, control, security, safety and other domains. Robotics and automation are changing the way that things get made, transform the objects and spaces where we live, and altering how we interact over distances. Ultimately, they will extend our senses and even transforming our notions of self and what it means to be human. These slides were delivered at SXSW on March 14, 2011.

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  • Video at: Created by Tanaka Hisashige (the founder of what was the forerunner to the Toshiba corporation) created Mojikaki Ningyo - an automated writing doll that used a complex clockwork mechanism (and not a single nail) to be able to write multiple characters. “No one would be able to make this doll today,” says the Osaka craftsman Susumu Higashino who restored it.
  • According to wikipedia a robot is a virtual or mechanical artificial agent. The word robot was coined in 1920 by Czech writer Karel Capek in his play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots. The name comes from the word Robota, traditionally this was the name for the work period that a serf had to give to his lord (typically 6 months). Robota literally means, “work” or “serf labor” and is associated with drudgery and hard work. Upper left: Tanaka Hisashige (the founder of what was the forerunner to the Toshiba corporation) created Moji-kaki Ningyo - an automated writing doll that used a complex clockwork mechanism (and not a single nail) to be able to write multiple characters. Upper Right: CNC machine. People don’t generally talk about these as robots, but one could make a case that they are. CNC machines, waterjets and other “fab” robots are arguably some of the most common and useful robots. Lower Right: Wall-E… hollywood’s robots have shaped our perceptions Lower middle: Industrial robot Lower Left: automated machines, like elevators, are all around us. Where do we draw the lines between interactive environments/architecture and robotics.
  • and RepRap, CNC, laser cutters, 3D printers, and waterjets all make it easier to manufacture your own products/materials. Used a laser cutter for the first time last week ( I’m used to cutting, filing, drilling material to make what I want) …this was so easy it felt like cheating. Bottom-Right: Here’s the “robots” that a grade 5 class built in a morning… many had rotating “saws”, “lights”, and in one case even a custom built wooden drill. The controllers were even more impressive.
  • Two things that are surprising about telerobotics: - first, it’s terribly hard to control (especially a larger robot). No fault of the motors or control systems, the sensors are just no match for the fidelity of what we have (peripheral vision, touch, and localizing sound are super important for example) - second, struck by how easily we nevertheless assume the identity of a remote object. Have a rovio, and after 15-20 minutes of driving around you get used to the idea of being less than a foot tall, driving under chairs and such. Also very odd to accidentally spot yourself on camera …out of body experience. … note, these problems even happen with bomb disposal robot. Check out:
  • Remote interactions… interactions at a distance can be vivid despite the limitations. Our imagination easily fills in the details. We will readily attribute complex characteristics to the simplest devices if we get the right cues. The “periscope” on the right has its motions (pan and tilt) mimicked by the brass robot on the left. The “periscope” also displays whatever it’s seeing. The body of the robot, and the mode of interaction of the “periscope” creates a more tactile personal experience between the two areas - making for much more vivid interactions.
  • left: plasma TV lifter Right: round table that can transform itself to become larger. Custom robotic shelf by GoodRobot at: Movement and robotics alone is insuffient for us to “believe” in agency. We don’t need it to feel alive in order for it to be a cool, interesting, or useful part of our living space. The “gadget” appeal is nice, and the more novel it is the stronger the appeal. But there’s also real value to smaller sustainable architecture and living spaces. Through transformation - objects become multifunctional. This not only makes better use of precious space, but this kind of object/architectural “reuse” can reduce materials, save space, and avoid waste. We expect our online environments to conform to our will, why not our physical spaces too?
  • This is the word clock… several hidden messages like: “ I love robots” “ Be a good robot” “ You done good” “ be good to your robot” “ robot art is good” “ robots do not eat pasta” “ do not be mean to your robot”
  • Left: Jessica Field’s “field studies” is like a robot zoo. She has created some fantastic “ecosystems” amongst her robots, for example some robots drop magnets while others pick them up (this example). She is meticulous about observing and documenting their behaviors - much as a naturalist would. Right: While visiting my local art supply store, I became intrigued by a wooden posable hand. It was lifelike enough that I wondered whether it could be made to move too. Considering our own hands are also joints manipulated by strings/tendons, I attempted to bring this imitation to life with the use of micocontrolled string tugs. The material (wood with screw joints) was less than ideal from a mechanical perspective, but the idea of creating this type of mechanical/robotic puppetry opens up all kinds of possibilities for lifelike motions.
  • Hylozoic Ground by Philip Beesley… spaces that feel “alive” Hylozoism: a word from the ancient greek meaning “life coming out of material” This is a responsive architecture that simulates life, but increasingly materials and wet chemicals that start to act like life. The environment is a geotextile that breaths and shifts and moves in response, and microprocessors give it primitive intelligence, then wet chemistry systems. Together they work together in a responsive architectural system.
  • Top Right: Gorbet Design’s “Solar collector: each day the suns rays charge up the movable bars, and each night they can be moved about emitting light and web based controls allow the community to create light patterns for the evening’s performance. Bottom right: Mix Motion (previous experience w/ Vjing) created this sidewalk piano that simply played music every time someone stepped on the right “keys”. Left: My version is called “Ode to Shannon”. It doesn’t look remotely alive, yet people treat it that way because it responds to them in a meaningful way (with intent). Video here:
  • New technology is not only improving our interface and increasing human’s input/output bandwidth. But the constant improvements in computing/network/storage are always creating fresh divisions of labor between humans and machines
  • Neural plasticity… our brains are a lot more flexible than we give them credit for. That means we can “shoehorn” in new kinds of senses into our perceptual array, changing our view of the world or even how we communicate with others. Lower left: sonar navigation for the blind by GoodRobot Upper right: Heart Spark - display your heart beat (and rate) to other people publicly Bottom right: North Paw - get tactile feedback on which direction is north
  • Cyborg camp is a “unconference” for all things Cyborg (from wearable computing to science fiction fans and medicine). Already held in Portland and Seattle, but this year there will be an additional one in Brazil and another is in the works for Toronto. Google Lunar Xprize offers $30 million to the contestant that can successfully place a robot on the moon and beam video back. Maker Faire is a huge DIY festival with robots and all manner of objects and machines. An open event where anyone is welcome to display their creations. It’s also international - looking forward to the mini maker Faire in Toronto May 6-8. RoboCup’s official goal: “By mid-21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win the soccer game, complying with the official rule of the FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.”
  • Humans don’t actually have the biggest brains. Whale brains are biggest, elephants are second, and we actually come in third. We also lose when it comes to number of neurons: some estimates put elephants at around 200 billion neurons, we’re closer to 100 billion. Zbut if it’s not brain size, then why are humans so startlingly different. … We’re great for the same reason open source is…. We get to look at and build upon eveyrthing that’s come before us. Isaac Newton has been quoted as saying “if I have seen further it is because I have been standing on the shoulders of giants”. Today we all stand on the shoulders of giants. By the time you leave high school, you’re carrying around knowledge that it took humanity thousands of years to accumulate. Language is our integration glue, that’s why social networks are so important, they’re a new stage in stitching our brains together. And the startling thing is how low bandwidth that is… You take the fastest human speech - say an auctioneer speaking at 250 words per minute - that translates to a paltry 75 bits per second. Computers network about 5.7 million times faster. So we have these “super computers”, us, walking around ( ourbrains are roughly 14,000 times more powerful than the fastest desktops), and the data paths between us are a mere trickle. As we acquire the technology to modify our senses and connect our brains, that’s all going to change…
  • Robot Art Lessons (SXSW)

    1. 1. Robot Art Lessons SXSW, March 14, 2011 Steve Guengerich , Managing Director, BroadBrush Ventures - Appconomy [email_address] @sguengerich Alan Majer , Founder [email_address] @goodrobot
    2. 2. What is a Robot Moji-kaki Ningyo
    3. 3. Robots: artificial agents
    4. 4. Open hardware and software let you build on the work of others. … .There’s never been a better time to make robots 5th Graders show us how its done Turning bits into atoms is easier than ever
    5. 5. Telepresence robot These out of body experiences reveal stunning robot inadequacies. The truth is that our bodies are engineering miracles. Yet our minds are incredibly adept at ignoring those limitations.
    6. 6. Vivid interactions despite the limitations
    7. 7. Robotic designs can transform the spaces we live in…
    8. 8. … things that talk
    9. 9. …robots imitating life
    10. 10. Philip Beesley Hylozoic Ground “… life coming out of material”
    11. 11. Designing enchanted objects…
    12. 12. Optimizing our senses Modifying our senses
    13. 13. Neuroplasticity: our brains are flexible enough to “shoehorn” in all kinds of new senses into our perceptual array.
    14. 14. Photo:
    15. 15. The next social media fabric: Integrating the most complex structures in the universe 17 “ Human communication is on the verge of a complete overhaul. We will be able to communicate with other humans merely by thinking to each other. Speech, as we know it, may well become obsolete.” — Kevin Warwick, 2004
    16. 16. What’s your plan for connecting to the “World Wide Mind” when it arrives? 17
    17. 17. Pictures: * Painting of Christopher Walken making a robot * flickr set of Alan's exhibit * Old Osmose photos: (this art project inspired an interactive VR system w/ treadmill and automated lift system Alan worked on). Videos * Intro video: * Steve's tech playlist on youtube * GoodRobot on YouTube: * Video of Hylozoic Ground project: * Article on Hylozoic Ground: * Clockwork "robot" from 19th Century. Moji-kaki Ningyo: Posts, articles, white papers, etc.: * blog: * Robot-related posts on Steve's blog * Mobile platform * Michael Chorost, author of "World Wide Mind" has his book reviewed by NY Times here: Other stuff * SXSW speakers: * cyborg camp * Heart Spark by Sensebridge: * MixMotion (sidewalk piano): * Gorbet Design (solar cell powered movable architecture):