Low-tech testing tools for high-tech robots

Darpa robotics challenge (DRC)

Well known for funding all sorts of military-oriented sci-tech projects in the USA, Darpa (Defense advanced projects research agency) is just about to launch the grand final of their robotics challenge. Twenty-five of the top robotics organizations in the world will gather to compete for $3.5 million in prizes as they attempt a simulated disaster-response course.

schaftDRCBot

I was not too impressed by the semi-finals in December 2013. I actually use a video of the Schaft S-One robot climbing a ladder to illustrate how far humanoid robots are from anything vaguely similar to old school Terminator or Ava from the recent Ex-Machina movie.

ava

Anyways, this post is a total side line: I had a look at videos of teams getting ready, working on balancing their robot (they are not allowed to assist the robot if it falls during the contest). I love the lo-tech tools built by the teams to push and prod the robots (a tradition started with the infamous video of Boston Dynamics Big Dog being kicked in 2008).

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DRC teams develop a somehow re-assuring ad-hocist approach that strongly contrasts with the titanium and silicon aesthetics of the machines.

Case A: MIT, pushing Atlas robot in the groin with an ominous looking cardboard tube

Case B: much more creative, research dudes in Virginia Tech have built a contraption that combines a broom handle and a child’s shoe. A clever design that allows pushing AND pulling!

If you liked the videos and you happen to be in Pomona, California on June 5th and 6th, check it out, entry is free! A unique opportunity to spot the next step in evolution (but you might not get to see the pushing tools).

From IEEE robotics spectrum

Wrekshop controller

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After several Wrekshops where we spent too much time building the interface for the creative down-cycling of e-waste items, I have finally found the time to build a general purpose Wrekshop controller. It features an Arduino Mega microcontroller, a recycled 400W PC power supply, three L298 dual channel motor controllers, an 8-digital outputs L2803 darlington array and a fast connecting system giving access to additional digital I/O, analog inputs, I2C and serial ports.

The Wrekshop controller was debugged and tested during the Blast Wrekshop in April 2015.


mmmm

Blast Wrekshop

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I was invited by Blast (Bournemouth laboratory for arts science and technology) to run a Wrekshop as part of their guest artists workshops seasons. In good company there, after Anna Dumitriu and Brandon Ballangée. I had been thinking for a while about how to boost the Wrekshop format (informed deconstruction and creative reconstruction of e-waste). I finally found the time to build a Wrekshop controller box, a sort of general purpose programmable device with easy connection and built-in functionalities. More details here.

The Wrekshop was attended by a gender-balanced group of mostly artists. They all-but-one built functional (if not useful) items to be connected to the controller. The results will be included in the final exhibition of the Blast projects alongside all the other things that were built. This should be an interesting show, planned for June.

blastWsLecture

I also presented a lecture on the latest of my practice and thinking on the Co-evolution of humans and machines. The not fully uplifting aspects such as superintelligence and Algorithmic regulation were compensated by funny old classics such as the Cybernetic Parrot Sausage video.

Gdansk Man|Machine Workshops

I just came back from running a Man|Machine workshop organised by Laznia Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gdansk, Poland, 17th to 23rd November 2014.

manmachine
“The Man|Machine workshops will concentrate on the creation of robots as works of art. The workshops are meant to enhance interdisciplinary attitudes among young artists, engineers and designers. They open to all audiences, with a special focus on students of art academies and technical universities from Poland and Norway. They will be lead by three robotic artists. The participants will form interdisciplinary teams, each of which shall create at least one robot under the supervision of a chosen artist.”

I lead one of the groups. The other artists were Jim Bond (UK) and Anders Eiebakke (Norway).

We worked for 6 days in a technopark in Gdynia and created a thing out of arduinos and Polish electronic waste. The students called it “Sasza – the love machine’. It has heart that moves and beats, a mouth made of felt that comes to kiss people who touch Sasza’a hands, and two excitable vibrating pets. Sasza will be exhibited in May in Laznia Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gdansk, then in Oslo in September.

 

Geek Cool song

November 4th 2014

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Geek Cool

The Junction, a live art venue in Cambridge UK, has teamed up with the Raspberry Pi foundation to commission 10 songs and pop videos by artists as part of the Sonic Pi: Live and Coding project. I have made a propaganda song called Geek Cool, to encouraging innocent children to become geeks.

Each song is 3 minutes long and was programmed on a Raspberry Pi computer using Sonic Pi, a music software that uses code to make music. Sonic Pi is installed by default as part of the Raspberry Pi suite of applications.

The songs and code will be released as a pack in primary schools, for kids to play around with and gain a better understanding of computer programming.

Geek Cool

All pop pi videos

After the circuits died

After the circuits died

On Sunday 26th October I was in the Victoria and Albert Museum Art Studio in London with three other artists (Jonathan Kemp, Madaleine Trigg, Dani Ploeger) improvising with a large pile of electronic waste.

The day will concluded with a presentation of the work in progress and discussion with cultural theorists Neil Maycroft and Toby Miller.

Details will be uploaded soon.

ewastePloeger

After the circuits died: exploring electronic waste is a free event where “Visitors are invited to follow a group of artists and cultural theorists in a one-day exploration of electronic waste”, part of an AHRC research project lead by Dani Ploeger

Digital Revolution

barbican01Squeezed in just in time in the Barbican Arts Centre in London to see the Digital Revolution exhibition. According to the website “this immersive and interactive exhibition brings together for the first time a range of artists, filmmakers, architects, designers, musicians and game developers, all pushing the boundaries of their fields using digital media.” The show comprised a few pieces commissioned by Google (as part of their Dev-art initiative which generated some direct-action controversy).

Altair 8800, 1970

Independently of Google’s possibly evil takeover, the show was interesting as it featured a large collection of artworks and artefacts related to creative technology from gaming, visuals, audio, interactive, fashion… I spent around three hours in Barbican’s packed Curve Gallery, trying to get a sense of electronic art history and future directions. All in all I was not struck by much originality, but it was nice to see old kit like an Altair 8800 and a Commodore PET as well as classic work by Paul Brown or Joshua Davies’ orignal Praystation (not as good version here).

As for more recent work, I enjoyed playing with Zach Lieberman Play the World audio installation (2014) where keys on a standard music keyboard trigger feeds from a worldwide selection of web radios. The keyboard is located in the middle of a circle of speakers, which provide the radios with a spatial direction. I liked the feeling of instant global connection and the sense of variety, a slick use of the resources offered by contemporary data that would be worth exploring further.

Also of interest:
Exquisite Clock, by João Wilbert and Andy Cameron (2008), an online clock made of photographs supplied by visitors to the website. Excellent use of crowdsourcing, simple, elegant and always changing clock.

Assemblance, an interactive laser show by Umbrellium. High-tech mobile lasers linked to a 3D vision system play tricks with visitors in a dark misty room. Very effective and playable, well programmed elusive beams.

Treachery of Sanctuary, by Chris Milk (2014). An interactive installation capturing the viewer’s silhouette and fitting it with wings, or getting it pecked at by birds. Effective display linked to some mythological elements, clearly endebted to Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters (2006).
More original was Milk’s other piece, an online music video for Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown that can be personalised to the viewer’s birthplace (or whatever google map’s destination). A bit clumsy but promising.

– The Year’s Midnight by Rafael Lozano Hemmer (2011), a slick augmented reality mirror where the viewer’s eyes start spewing smoke. Reminded me of Jim Campbell’s pioneer piece Hallucination (1988).

barbican03

Dartmoor Art School Robotics

Demo in the pub

At the end of July I ran a workshop as part of the original and friendly Dartmoor Arts Summer School, an independent organisation that runs art courses on a variety of subjects in or near Drewsteignton, Dartmoor, UK. For the first time the team included a drawing robot course in addition to more traditional subjects like drawing or stone carving.


7 participants registered and over the course of three days we covered the basics required to build and start programming an Arduino-powered drawing vehicle. All went well. Robotic drawing happened, culminating in a semi-chaotic demo in the local pub on the last night.

Deershed festival wrekshop2

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For the second year I was invited to run a Wrekshop in the Deershed festival in Topcliffe, North Yorkshire UK. Deershed is festival for families, with a science tent specially for the kids. It is in that tent that I ran my shop, deconstruction of used consumer electronic items. The most persitent of children re-constructed something from the parts, and we included all creations in a lo-tech programmable kinetic portal.

The activity was very popular and I had to fight continuously to prevent my tools and laptop from being digested by the frantic activity. I was more prepared and, with the help of a great team of volunteers, we managed to get our electro-kinetic portal on the go. The portal started from the Big E-Waste Tech Head that we made in Brentford in May.


A sequencer based on an Arduino Mega and some controlling electronics allowed the portal to be programmed, all bits and bobs moving and sounding in turn. Kids loved to see their item added to the mix, but the majority of children and grown-ups got their kicks from the taking apart/destruction of the items. At the end of day 3 pretty much everything that could be taken apart was.

Interview with Michka Melo

At the occasion of a week of citizen science research with my friend Michka Melo in Foam Brussels, I took the opportunity to record an interview. Michka talks about his atypical background, urban gardening, biomimicry, upcycling, future scenario, art and science collaboration. Inspiring and very well informed views on cutting edge topics!

An account of our experiments is available here. Thanks to Robert Murray Smith for valuable info on DIY supercapacitors.

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