Research

FabCre8 Micro Grant exhibition

FabCre8 is a research group of Cardiff School of Art and Design, focusing on creative technologies and digital fabrication. Severla micro-grants were allocated to members of the group in 2016-17 for research and development. The exhibition features work by Ingrid Murphy, Jon Pigott, Aidan Taylor, myself and other members of staff.

I am showing two Mudbots that were developed as a direct application of Power of the Mud, my FabCre8 experiments with microbial fuel cells. Also on display are four recently made Insect Buzz objects.

 

The sounding, wearable objects are to be used in marches and events in support of an ecological society. The Insect Buzz prototypes are being developed as part of the EASTN-DC European research project. Early versions were tested in Extinction Rebellion and Strike for Climate protests in Cardiff.

 

Strike for Climate Cardiff 20 September 2019

 

Extinction Rebellion Summer Unrest July 2019

RIXC Art Science Festival 2019

RIXC is a Media Art centre based in Riga Latvia. They have been running an ambitious and experimental media art programme since 2000. This year the RIXC Festival features the UN/GREEN exhibition and the conference Open Fields 2019: UN/GREEN: NATURALLY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCES

I will present on 6th July a talk at the conference with the catchy title: What to make [techno-] art about in the age of ecological collapse?…

 

Video above: Pond Battery by Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, 2015

Smit and Smits, curators of the UN/GREEN exhibition, have been making several installations using microbial fuel cells. I am interested in hearing more about the work, as I experimented with similarly sticky technology in collaboration with Michka Melo in the Power of the Mud and Mudbots projects.

AI has been delayed

A quick note on a recent post by AI and robotics expert Rodney Brooks, from his blog largely focused on misconceptions about AI and its imminent takeover. The post dated May 17th 2019 is titled AGI has been delayed (A-rtificial G-eneral I-ntelligence). Brooks looks into the state of the art technology of autonomous cars and, informed by these observations, predicts that AGI, an artificial intelligence with the same versatility and adaptability as a human intelligence will not occur before 2300.

 

 

Brooks writes a short paragraph about the dangers of AI that rings very true with some of my current concerns:

“what does [the fact that autonomous cars are not to be around for another few decades]  say about predictions that AGI is just around the corner? And what does it say about it being an existential threat to humanity any time soon. We have plenty of existential threats to humanity lining up to bash us in the short term, including climate change, plastics in the oceans, and a demographic inversion. If AGI is a long way off then we can not say anything sensible today about what promises or threats it might provide as we need to completely re-engineer our world long before it shows up, and if when it does show up it will be in a world that we can not yet predict.”

 

 

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, 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).

 

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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

 

 

powerMudDrawing

With support from FabCre8 @ Cardiff School of Art and Design

Excellent candidate for wild robot experiment

The robot fans readers will know about Boston Dynamics‘ Spot Mini, a pretty amazing quadruped robot I mentioned a while ago. On 19th July 2017, an upgraded version was introduced to the clients of Boston Dynamics’ new owner, Softbank Japan. Spot has been given an “arm”, that looks as much as a neck and jaws as it does an arm.

These characteristics would make Spot Mini an ideal candidate for the Coy-B Wild Robot experiment that’s been haunting me fo the past ten years, with highs and lows. For reasons of reliability, cost and battery usage, I did not think of Coy-B as a legged robot. Yet, something agile and uncanny like Spot Mini would be very good for the job!

The demo shows a robotic creature whose abilities are, if not quite at the level of those demonstrated by the coyote that inspired Coy-B, fluid and fast enough for a very engaging real-time interaction with a human. Loaded with a suitable set of teeth and a wild AI program of course.

When will it be available at the robot shop around the corner?

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.

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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.”

Eppur si Muove exhibition

Last week the exhibition Eppur Si Muove opened in MUDAM museum, Luxemburg. Lots of good stuff in there. The exhibition is a combination of historical scientific and technical artefacts from Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris and contemporary artworks related to similar techniques and science. Until February 2016.

 

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The exhibition features many excellent works, including Tinguely’s Fata Morgana, Eliasson’s Trust Compass, Kowalski’s Arc en Ciel, Stelarc’s Third Hand and many more. My own Smartbot has been uncrated for living another segment of its limited existence on one square metre.

The MUDAM commissioned me and a team of artists, engineers and business students from Université de Lorraine, Nancy, France, to develop a robot guide for Eppur Si Muove. Guido the Robot Guide started its visits the day after the opening. There is a fair bit of work to be done before it can take over the human guides (phew) but Guido is popular with visitors, especially young ones. It talks about a selection of artworks and inventions from a robotic perspective, only in French for the moment. Two engineering students are working on Guido’s navigation and telepresence until end August.

 

guidoPortraitWeb

 

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!

chappieSm
A winner will be crowned on Saturday.

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

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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