Monday, March 13, 2006

AV festival - LifeLike?

Over the weekend I visited Newcastle to check out the AV LifeLike festival - where "the world's leading electronic artists hold a mirror up to the modern world".
Luckily I was there to visit some friends in Newcastle...
We - three adults and toddler, drove to Sunderland to see Ken Rinaldo's Spiderbots.
Joe (ex Sussex COGS) and myself having a technical curiosity and some experience of interactive installations, public art and robotics.

12 robots in a pen, only three feebly working.
Not so impressive, the child was bored, the mother annoyed and we were amazed.
We spoke to the poor assistant who was answering irrate visitors, yes the batteries only last an hour and we only have 1 charger and the charging station does not work.
Its a pity for the robots were very interestingly constructed - if only they were actually working! One did walk a bit while we were there.
Lessons to be learnt here, especially showing work in a public arena - systems have to be robust, and things must work.
The woman who ran the cafe had some very strong opinions about the show - she was very underimpressed, especially as there had been a lot of money spent on the hype with PR events, wine etc.

Finally the AV guide, a disaster of mis-information! It was set out on a daily basis, all well and good, but if you wanted to find out where something was or what it was about, see another date, so you do, then back to find out where it was, no opening times, so you go through it again.
So that was Saturday, and on Sunday, lots to see said the guide. Where they were, what were they about, found that - opening times?
At the back of the guide all the venues were listed as being closed on a Sunday....


Blogger Ken Rinaldo said...

I always appreciate a critique from a colleague and of course it is always valuable to have feedback from other respected voices in the community. This is why it is especially relevant that I write back to add some context to my colleagues critique.

First corrections: there were 10 robots in the ring and we had 4 chargers for 10 robots going at all times. Even with this, the ones you saw moving were working just fine and having a battery run out, is very different than “they are broken”. They were in fact programmed not to walk too often to help conserve battery life and this is part of their normal functioning.

In fact, they all worked great and did exactly what we said they were designed to do. I was extremely pleased that the robots could find their recharge stations and for this exhibition they were not activated to do so, simply because we did not have enough funding to pursue this aspect of the project, in spite of receiving a nice commission from AV and collecting $60,000 in in-kind donations.

Those in the field can appreciate the achievement of just having any complex entity designed in this way with rapid prototyping technology, walk forward, back and avoid each other as an extraordinarily complex task and I suspect this is why the author has made reference to “being amazed”. Me too, as these robots have defined a completely new morphology of robot walking with a completely new joint design while showing autonomy and intelligence in a distributed fashion.

In reference to the “woman who ran the café” she may have an advanced degree in art and be qualified to add commentary on alife art, though I doubt she would have spoken to the myriads of people I saw really loving this work and enjoying its subtle inter communication and proper functioning.

Here are blogs that felt the piece was successful and wonderful and they help to add balance to this single review.

The children and adults I observed for days on end, using and interacting with this work, have been laughing and enjoying with excitement, though this should not be the judge of a good work of art or science.

Yes the batteries are an issue and in fact this is ours and every bodies research and one Holy Grail of trying to make a series of robots structurally couple with their environment. Keep in mind that the P2 Honda robot also only lasts 45 minutes on a single charge.

I am going to use Li Poly batteries now that new budget will be forthcoming for an upcoming exhibition in Brazil and I ask my esteemed colleague not to be so quick to rush to judgment and take some time, next time, to observe the ongoing proper functioning of this robotic series.

Description of project.

The Autotelematic Spider Bots 2006, is a new artificial life robotic installation. It consists of 10 spider-like sculptures that interact with the public in real-time and self-modify their behaviors, based on their interaction with the viewer, themselves, their environment and their food source.

The robots see participants in the installation with long distance ultrasonic eyes at the end of the springy neck. Shorter distance infrared eyes allow the robots to see and avoid each other as well as avoid walls and humans in the space. The infrared eyes also allow the robots to find their food source, which is a recharge station. One behavior of many allows the robots to wiggle their necks in unison in a distributed fashion. The group communicates with each other through Bluetooth and infrared, which allows them to coordinate their activity as they self modify themselves and the group to interact with the public. They stay equidistant from each other and the walls in the spider ring with pulse coded infrared eyes, which come from small aluminum tubes placed at the midsection of the spider bots.

The robots talk to each other and the interacting public with audible chirping sounds. One of the robots has a mini video camera and transmitters to project what they see to the wall of the installation.

The robots find their food source through random foraging in the installation looking for a 1 hz infrared beacon that sits under the recharge rail. This infrared beacon in association with digital compasses permit the spider bots to learn the location of the food source (recharging station) and share this with the other bots. - Digital pheromones (a digital version of ant pheromones) can be passed from any one robot to the rest of the group if the

The spider bots talk to each other and the viewer with piezo speakers, which emit twittering sounds somewhere between a cricket and a bird.

These robots are born and built by other robots in a rapid protyping plastic at Laser Reprodutions in Ohio and are powered by the Parallax BS2P with left right hemisphere approach to parallel processing and the processor brains are also built by robots at Parallax. In June in Sao Paulo they will get their energetics from the sun with an array of solar panels on the roof of the Itau Cultural.

The Auto telematic Spider Bots installation is an artificial life chimera; a robotic spider, eating and finding its food like an ant, seeing like a bat with the voice of an electronic twittering bird.

They will, we hope answer a longstanding question about the emergence of an autonomous series of robots acting like ants in being able to structurally couple with their environment in feeding themselves through intercommunication.

12:37 AM  
Blogger RichardB said...

The comments I made were written from a point of view of frustration! We saw the show at the end of the festival and had travelled some distance especially to see this work, with great anticipation too (enjoying previous work such as autopoesis). When we arrived, only 1 charger was working, and only three robots were active, the others were "dead".
The robots are beautiful, but with only three out of ten working (ie powered) the impact of the piece is completely lost. The opening is a special time when everything has to work, but robust day-to-day running is an essential requirement for any technology based art. I understand the problems, I appreciate the work that went into the robots, and we all wishfully wanted them to be working (active) - but they were not and that was our frustrating experience - knowing that they could have been.
I understand power is a challenge for free moving robots - solar panels, floor grids, feeding stations may solve these problems, but until then, 10 robots that each run for an hour need 20 batteries and 10 less-than-an-hour chargers plus a very active robot charger person!

12:29 PM  

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