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, commonly known as Mud Batteries, in 2016.
Their batteries contain sediment mud from Barry Island, Wales. The mud is rich in bacteria of the Shewanella (below) or Geobacter type, that deliver bioelectrogenesis (generation of electricity by living organisms).
In September 2017 we showed our first working prototype in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Digital Design Weekend in London, here is the link to fully detailed report on our experiments on microbial fuel cells before the event.
We had a great time, lots of questions and interest with amazed, amused, puzzled looks. Our bacteria worked hard and slow, 12 mud batteries powering 2 small robots for 10 seconds every 10 minutes. The robots run from a BBC Microbit each, with a small motor and an LED.
Thanks to Irini Papadimitriou for inviting us!
photo: Martine Goldschmidt-Clermont
With support from FabCre8 @ Cardiff School of Art and Design
Just back from the Deershed Festival in Topcliffe UK where I ran a 3 days Wrekshop for kids. The festival’s theme was Wilderwild [not sure where they got that from. I understood it as something to do with woods and some spooky friendly vibe you can get in nature]. I thought it would be a good opportunity to make an ELECTRIC WILDERTREE combining e-waste, the relentless energy of children with screwdrivers and a bit of expert technological creativity.
One hour before the attack
Wrekshop leftovers ready to go back to recycling facilities
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.”
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 and played with a busy crowd on the opening night amongst incredulous gasps and loud laughs. The show runs until September 24th.
Photo by Tom Arran
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
Fields near Drewsteignton
Phil’s robot in action
Glynn’s robot train engine
Six robots near completion
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.