Once the realm of just science and technology, robots now are turning up more and more in the world of fine arts, making appearances in art exhibitions, creative promotional campaigns, and even on stage in the theater.
A recent art exhibition at Davidson College in North Carolina featured several robotic installations specifically aimed at fostering interaction between visitors and robots. In one, five appendages with skeletal-looking hands mounted on a wall follow and point at onlookers who enter the room. When they sense a smile, the arms wave.
In another, three helium-filled balloons carry houseflies in chambers hanging from each blimp. A robotic system determines the movement of the blimps based on the movement of the swarms of flies inside each chamber.
We've collected examples of some of the other ways designers and artists have integrated robots into the creative arts. Click on the "Nerdbot" below to start the slideshow.
A Missouri couple has built an entire online business out of creating and selling art-inspired robots. Their site, Nerdbots, features a number of robots made out of found and unusual objects. Fanfare, pictured, consist primarily of the parts of an old rotary telephone. Most of the robots are crafted from objects the couple finds in antique and thrift stores and are priced in the $250 to $300 range. (Source: Nerdbots LLC)
This is very impressive, this shows how much robots are influencing our lives. They are not only targeting our needs, like in industry or government sector, but are also making impact on our every day lives.
Whether it was their intention or not, the creators of the Davidson College robots are actually dealing with that slippery concept known as the "uncanny valley" (where humanoid robots give people the creeps). By sensing smiles are reacting positively, I would think they're helping to alleviate that creepy feeling. Nice slideshow, Liz.
Thanks, Chuck. Yes, I think that your take on that art exhibit is probably right, even if it wasn't the intention of the artist. I think also as people become more comfortable with robots in different venues like the ones in this slideshow, the uncanny valley effect will begin to diminish.
Yes, Chuck, it's just a matter of time. I actually think it won't be so long--maybe only a five years or so, depending on how quickly robots become adopted in the mainstream--before people forget that robots ever seemed weird or strange to be around. But maybe I'm just optimistic and think technology like helper robots for the elderly and Baxter for factories will become part of the mainstream quickly.
Elizabeth, let us hope that robots never become "self aware", because at that point they will suddenly have personalities similar to the worst aspect of those programmers who create their basic progams. And that will be a rather bad situation, even worse if there are a lot of them. Just imagine an unhappy machine that lacks an adequate intelligence to understand an explanation of the real situation, and why it is satisfactory. And picture a robot that becomes bored doing robot tasks.
Robotic art is fine, the media can indeed be the massage, but it sould not attempt anything like real intelligence, only good reflexes and an ability to follow instructions.
That's an interesting idea, William K. I often think about how intelligent robots are getting and if they actually could have a real capacity for self-awareness, due to the fact that they are limited by the programming being done for them by humans. But were your theory to come true, it could make for some unpleasant scenarios. I don't know if it's really possible, though, since a robot is limited by what a human programmer can do, and I am not sure if self-awareness--which itself is so complicated in humans--could actually become part of a robot's artificial intelligence. But others can weigh in on this and correct me if I'm wrong.
Elizabeth, I have read several articles in the past three years about groups striving to develop self awareness in either computers and robots. And while I share some of your doubts about the probability of their success, I also regard them as courting a real potential for disasters in a number of different ways. I see it as similar to a bunch of more radical college students attempting to create home-made atomic weapons. That is, I don't see anything beneficial that can come from self aware robots, or even just computers.
Self-awareness? Look what it did for 'Skynet', we didn't fare so well against it. All kidding aside, scientists are working on that issue as we speak, however I agree with Elizabeth. We don't yet understand why it is we and even animals are self-aware and robots may never achieve that level of sophistication.
Cabe, the problem is the potential for seroius problems if robots or any machine entities ever do become self aware. It would move them in the direction of considering that they deserved some freedoms and believing that they had some rights. There is no possible benefit to machinery being self aware that can outvalue the potential for undesireable consequences. Why don't those working on such projects realize this. I have no doubt that they can eventually reach some version of highly neurotic self aswareness in some machines. And what possible benefit could be the result.
Consider the effect of a robotic assembly line deciding that it needed some additional benefits, and how complex any negotiations would be. And that is just one example. Or consider a rescue robot refusing to enter a dangerous situation because of the risk of injury.
I agree with all of you that this slideshow is pretty cool, if I do say so myself! I have to admit it was really fun to collect the photos and I learned a lot about projects I wasn't even aware of. Actually, Chuck that is a good question about the sleep art. Ann originally covered this (I think the link to the story is in the caption) so maybe she can weigh in. But I imagine it could be that the art is erratic if your sleep is. There is an iPhone app now that does what the robots did--you can try it and see what it comes up with!
Yeah, I actually wrote a story about the robot play when it was running in the U.S., Rob, but for one reason or another it didn't actually post on the site. But it was really interesting to talk to one of the actors and the playright and see what it was like to interact with robots, and what the audience reaction was. The Japanese seem to really like this sort of thing and be on the cutting edge of integrating robots more with humans.
Yes, Rob, I wonder what it is about Japanese culture that makes them more comfortable with robots than other cultures in the world. I guess it has something to do with the tendency that makes things like anime and monster movies (I'm thinking of "Godzilla" ;)) popular in Japan. I wonder if anyone has done a sociological study about it!
Rob, much of Japanese culture seems to be an urgent need to be just like everybody else. That would tend to make the people identify with robots quite readily, since robots seem to come off an assembly line, all quite similar to each other. At least the industrial robots that I ammaquainted with all seemed to have identical personalities.
I am very impressed with all the creative ways robots are used in this slideshown for artistic applications. I especially liked the "skeletal-looking hands" which were 'creepy' until you smiled and also the use of robots as actors. (Maybe the actor's union will object to this application...)
I really love the idea of a robot at an art exhibition showing visitors around the room. As a designer (though not exactly an artist) I often find myself having to exhibit my designs to the world at some point. The problem with exhibitions is that you have to repeat the same facts over and over and this can really get exhausting. Having a robot do that for me is simply awesome and thanks Elizabeth for bringing that up.
Well in all the examples of robots replacing humans, AandY, I think you have found a new way to use them. It would be great if robots could replace humans as escorts not only at exhibitions but maybe even as hosts/hostesses at a restaurant. Although I think most people would still prefer a real person to do these things. But in the future, that could change.
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