Thoughts

Robots and Dogs

Boston Dynamics posted a new video of their quadruped robot Spot, this time accompanied by a cute biological quadruped terier. So far the two species do not seem to get along too well…

Which confirms the findings of this older experiment with an Aibo and a German Shepherd (2006).

The Imitation Game

Getting ready for The Imitation Game, a group exhibition in Manchester Art Gallery where 8 artists explore the theme of machines and the imitaion of life. More details here.

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I was commissioned to make a new robot installation called Am I Robot for the show, still in the finishing stages in my Cardiff studio. I am looking forward to the show the features classic works by Lynn Hershman and Mari Velonaki (pictured), as well as several new pieces by Ed Atkins, Tove Kjellmark, Yu-Chen Wang and more…

Opens 12th February.

Assemble wins Turner Prize

The collective of socially engaged architects Assemble won the Turner Prize last night. I am a big fan of their very inclusive “useful art”. They were shortlisted for the Turner Prize for their gentle yet ground-breaking regeneration work in the Granby area of Liverpool.

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Check the video about the Granby Workshop, a new social enterprise making handmade products for homes. The workshop is run by local residents. The products are created with hand-made techniques, using some disused building materials and other locally sourced recyclables. Shop online or in their shop in Granby, then sold online or in their local showroom.

RIP Chris Burden

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I just found out today that Chris Burden died on 10th May, aged 69.

Infamous for deliberately shocking masochistic performances in the 1970s, he went on to make great sculptures and installations. Among my favourites is Big Wheel (1979). Combining a 1.7 tons steel flywheel and a small italian motorcyle, it evokes weight, energy, transport, risk in a spectacular kinetic-static performance sculpture. The simplicity of means, the scale, the engineering and the danger are typical of Burden’s best work unique impact.

Respect.

New Museum_2013_Chris Burden_Benoit Pailley


Burden’s famous performance SHOOT! (1971).

 

Robotics Challenge falls video compilation

Day 1 of Darpa robotics challenge

IEEE posted this video shot today on the obstacle course, many robots bit the dust. Most of them got back on track despite the nasty-looking falls.
Humanoid robots sure have a long way to go. Yet, I just spent a while watching the live feed and it is impressive what these things can do. Even if it the actions feel excruciatingly slow at times, the task gets completed most times.

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!

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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.

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.

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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

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).

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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.

Brussels visits: Foire aux savoir-faire

After another citizen science experimental day in Brussels, Michka and I went along to a recycled goods workshop in the premises of la Foire aux savoir-faire (know-how fair). In a similar way to Hacker Space Brussels we visited two nights before, la Foire aux savoirs takes over several levels of a town house in the city centre. We arrived at the end of the workshop, where a small group was assembling Brazil inspired ornament with recycled corks and bits. We had a good chat with one of the main organisers, Damien, about the vision for the organisation.

As implied in the name, members and visitors are invited to share skills in all sorts of domains, from cooking to knitting to designing alternative energy sources. The top floor is crammed with donated material to be upcycled. The attic also hosts an ominous methaniser tank, a device that generates usable methane gas from organic waste, potentially enabling the operation of a cooker or other heating device.

La foire aux savoir-faire is always on the lookout for volunteers and driven by an enthusiastic team, pay them a visit if you are around this part of the world!

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