Combover Jo in Hull, UK

Good old Combover Jo the purple hairy robot with an unfortunate hairstyle is roaming until September 24th in Humber Street Gallery Hull as part of States of Play, an exhibition organised by the Craft Council of England.

States of Play is a new Crafts Council exhibition for Hull City of Culture 2017 which shows how play shapes our lives and the world around us.

Work by sixteen UK and international makers and designers turn upside down the idea that play is the preserve of children. Instead it is revealed as a creative, social and political force that infuses all areas of life.”

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For the occasion Combover Jo has been updated to version 2.0, losing its hands but gaining an eye, and a much improved dream state. Confirming its crowd-pleaser status, the trickster robot moved among a busy crowd on the opening night amongst incredulous gasps and loud laughs.

Combover Jo is the moving part of the installation Am I Robot, commissioned by Manchester Art Gallery for their Imitation Game exhibition, 2016.

Things I liked in States of Play include twisted 3D printer works Thingiverse gone GMO nightmare by Matthew Plummer Hernandez, rejection letter automated crows by Ting Tong Chang, blow-activated wind device by MischerTraxler Studio, the optical non-things by Glithero and the silver pineapples on the gallery’s front by Silo Studio. Check it out, Hull as City of Culture 2017 has lots going on!

Power of the mud

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Robotic artist Paul Granjon and bio-engineer Michka Melo are exploring the usability of microbial fuel cells for powering small robotic, sensing, interactive systems. Microbial fuel cells work by harnessing the electron-releasing capability of certain types of bacteria widely found in soil and mud. Paul and Michka have started working together on Microbial Fuel Cells in 2016.

barryMud

They will use sediment mud from Barry Island, Wales, to power a pair of small twitchy robots.

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The mud is rich in Shewanella bacteria, see above.

Presently Michka and Paul are working on a pair of sloth-inspired minibots.

slothPair

slothBotDrawing

With support from FabCre8 @ Cardiff School of Art and Design

BBC Radio Wales: Children make robots

BBC Radio Wales Art Show came to interview children and staff on the last day of a 10 weeks project where we made sort of robots from old PCs and bits and BBC micro:bits (scroll to 17 minutes in the program to get to the robots section).

croestyBots

The project was part of the Lead Creative Schools run by the Arts Council. Aimed at promoting a creative approach to teaching and life, the scheme allows a class to work with a creative practitioner for approximately 10 teaching days on a made to measure project. Check the scheme out, you can apply to take part in the next round if you are a school, teacher, or creative practitioner based in Wales.

Good vibes all along, ace dodgy robots, enthusiatic young makers, this was a fine adventure! Thanks to all involved.

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Micro:bit review

PC Cannibals

I finished running a Wrekshop for kids with a Year 4 class near Bridgend (UK). A typical Wrekshop combines creative taking apart and reconstruction of electronic waste with coding. The kids made sort of robots from electronic waste. For the coding aspect I decided to use the recently released BBC Micro:bits. Micro:bits are small, child-friendly programmable devices developed by the BBC, the University of Lancaster, Microsoft and other partners.

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micro:bit in a scrap robot’s “brain socket”

The BBC and partners are aiming to generate an enthusiasm for coding in young people similar to what happened when the original BBC Microcomputer was released in 1981. A generation of British coders learned their skills on this flexible machine (and me 15 years later). Unlike current computers or tablets, the user had to code so as to get the best of the machine’s possibilities.

bbc micro

Positives:

After ten sessions in the class, I find the BBC Micro:bit well suited for the task of engaging children into coding and interfacing. They can get quick gratification with the built-in 5×5 LED display and 2 buttons. The JavaScript Block Editor programming environment (similar to Scratch) is intuitive and easy to use and there is ample way to progress with the availability of MicroPython and Java programming environments.

micro:bit block editor

I used Micropython to finalise the programs for the class, not an ideal solution for the children who were used to the block editor, but the only way so far for including speech in the project. The kids were keen to get their robots to speak.

Downsides:

Unfortunately the Block Editor is only available online, which can be seriously limiting if you have no or slow internet access. For more advanced users I recommend the MU editor, a self-contained, downloadable MicroPython programming environment that works very well.

bbcMicrobitFront

The crocodile clips connections system, although a good idea, makes it easy to short-circuit the board as the 3 Volts and Ground holes are next to each other. The clips can also easily cross-connect adjacent pins. Most 8 year olds do not find it straightforward to use crocodile clips and several of the boards used in the project have suffered already. Still, with a little care it works fine.

This machine could bite

•– This Machine Could Bite —————————-

The Australian online journal Fibreculture’s special issue on Creative Robotics is now available! The issue features 8 articles by academics and artists on themes such as creative robots on Mars, non-organic intelligence, working with the most famous humanoid robots, failing robots and more… My contribution to the journal is an article titled This Machine Could Bite, On the Role of Non-Benigh Art Robots. I make a case for experimentation in human robot interaction with machines not designed for being useful or friendly.

pepperLAdy

Article abstract:

“The social robot’s current and anticipated roles as butler, teacher, receptionist or carer for the elderly share a fundamental anthropocentric bias: they are designed to be benign, to facilitate a transaction that aims to be both useful to and simple for the human. At a time when intelligent machines are becoming a tangible prospect, such a bias does not leave much room for exploring and understanding the ongoing changes affecting the relation between humans and our technological environment. Can art robots – robots invented by artists – offer a non-benign-by-default perspective that opens the field for a machine to express its machinic potential beyond the limits imposed by an anthropocentric and market-driven approach? The paper addresses these questions by considering and contextualising early cybernetic machines, current developments in social robotics, and art robots by the author and other artists.”

Llawn Festival Llandudno

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Today’s view of the Llandudno promenade, North Wales.

I am here invited by Llawn04 Festival (Llawn = full in Welsh) in their own words:, “The Llandudno Art Weekend – LLAWN – a whole weekend of free events along the Promenade and across various venues and spaces in Llandudno. There’ll be performance, street-games, music, robot-making, dance, visual-art, film and the unexpected all inspired by this year’s theme of Hide/Seek.”

The festival is totally packed with an eclectic collection of engaging events, all free! Do come along with friends and families!

Bobby wearing Tech Head

Bobby wearing Tech Head

For regulars to this patchy blog, it will be pretty obvious that I have something to do with the robot-making mentioned in Llawn’s promo blurb. I will run a free Wrekshop on Saturday and Sunday 10:30 to 18:00, open to all people above 7 years of age and not wearing flip flops.

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Also on show a short performance for the opening of the festival. Usual suspects robotic ears, bird and Mofo have travelled in their cavernous suitcase and will stretch their circuits in Oriel Mostyn Gallery on Friday at 19:30.

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And good old Combover Jo will have a chat with anyone walking down the tube in Oriel Mostyn for the next 3 weeks.

Combover Jo vs D. Trump

Ok, here we go, my turn to trump.

I was doing some software adjustments on my new robot Combover Jo in Manchester Art Gallery today and one of the invigilators told me that the robot was nick-named Donald Trump by the team. I think it is unfair.

comboverTrump

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