Robotics Challenge poster babes

I mentioned last week some original lab testing devices for some robots that will compete in Darpa’s Robotics Challenge tomorrow and Saturday. Well, here they are (most them anyway) in this pure robot geek poster published by the robotics branch of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

Darpa Robotics Challenge finalist, June 2015

An interesting selection of cutting edge humanoid and semi-humanoid designs, ready to bite the dust of Fairplex, California. There even is a Chappie lookalike!

A winner will be crowned on Saturday.

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.


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.


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).

Screen shot 2015-05-26 at 00.36.10

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

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.

“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.


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.

Coucou clock making in Cévennes

I spent a week near Alès in the south of France, sharing tricks with the multi-talented William Brossard, founder of Artimachines. We started building a hybrid cuckoo clock using various techniques ranging from walnut tree sanding to Raspberry pi programming. The coucou bird is working nicely, coming out of a circular door designed by William. The clock runs on a Raspberry Pi fitted with an Adafruit PiTFT monitor. The bird and door are controlled by an Arduino Uno and a L298 motor controller.

I am thinking of changing the display as the PiTFT display is dim in daylight and when seen at an angle.


Is Technology Eating My Brain? the machines

Several works were developed for the  Is Technology Eating My Brain? exhibition:

Geranium Survival Unit

Pedal-powered automated watering and lighting system for a geranium

techEatBrain Litany

Endless computer speech declining public opinions on technology

Big E-Waste Tech Head

Participatory sculpture made of upcycled e-waste

Slicing Photo-Booth

Self-portrait machine with random slice-mixing function


Is Technology Eating My Brain?

Is Technology Eating My Brain? poster

My residency-exhibition Is Technology Eating My Brain? at Watermans Arts Centre Brentford West London is going well. The project is based on my Wrekshop idea. The principle consists of installing an e-waste upcycling unit in a gallery space, opening it to voluntary participants and build exhibits over the period.


The residency part of Is Technology Eating My Brain? at Watermans Arts Centre has concluded with a launch on 15th May. Visitors had a chance to mingle among a Geranium Survival Unit, a Slicing Photo-Booth, eat French style radish snacks (raw with a chunk of butter and some salt), play tunes on a pedal-powered sound system provided by Pedal PA.


Other works include the techeatbrain Litany, a growing list of “Technology is…” statements read by a speech synthesizer running on an old PC retrofitted with Linux Crunchbang and espeak. Visitors can enter statements to the list which was started by myself and participant Toby Lynch. The soundscape is completed by an audio mix of atmos sounds I recorded in Australia and Japan.

Participants Jason Scording and Bobby Neighbour contributed greatly to the Big E-Waste Helmet of Tomorrow, a bulky just-about-wearable headset featuring mobile photographic eyes made of hacked 2 megapixel vintage-ish cameras. The Slicing Photo-Booth was programmed on Raspberry Pi by Vagmakr. Eugenie Smit put together a delicate assembly of small devices triggering one another (see below).

The exhibition runs until June 3rd


TAROS 2013

I was in Oxford at the end of August where I presented the Coy-B project at the 14th TAROS conference. TAROS stands for Towards Autonomous RObotics Systems. It is attended by an international crew of specialists from academia and business. I was hoping to make contact with interested robotic scientists who would share my view that it is important to reflect on what are these cybernetic creatures and what would a cybernetic wilderness be?

During my short presentation I noticed that one member of the audience was nodding vigorously. He introduced himself afterwards and we had a couple of good conversations in the next couple of days. It is too early to disclose the details, but I was invited to present the project to his team, which went well. Hopefully a collaboration will get started within the next few months, depending on funding. Watch this space…


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